Category: books

Wren & Martin Grammar anyone? The state of textbook publishing in India

Oxford grammar has dropped interjections from parts of speech! Have Britons really become a nation of drunks in permanent stupor-hangover, as some news reports allege?

Cover of Wren and Martin's High School English Grammar & Composition

It all started with the question what a subject and a predicate were. That’s how state board books in India start with English grammar. My new Oxford grammar book was of no help. So, I went and bought a copy of the venerable-old Wren and Martin “High School English Grammar & Composition” today. This is a book that has been in use for several decades by students of English in India and other British colonies. It is like Dondo Moden French Course, which is a humble textbook published by Oxford University Press and used all over the world to learn/teach French for over a century.

When I was in school, I never owned one but my friends used it. Even though I was surprised they would spend actual money to buy a grammar book, I found the book worthwhile before exams as it had more grammar exercises than the one prescribed by our school syllabus. My friends also bought the key to the book and it was useful to cross-check our answers!

S Chand had made several revisions to the original text. There are now two editions – one illustrated and the other is not. I bought the illustrated one. The paper quality (recycled) is not as good as it was IN THOSE DAYS but the color illustrations were a surprise. I did not buy the Key to HSEG&C but it is available. (The Dondo book also has a “key” book for its exercises.)

Illustrated Wren & Martin's High School English Grammar & Composition

The Oxford grammar book bears no resemblance to the grammar used in Indian school textbooks. Oxford grammar seems to be an example of the control-freak mentality that has ruined several disciplines. The US Department of Defense would call a pencil as “portable handheld graphite communications inscriber”. They obtained a permanent place in management books by famously ordering toilet seats for $600 per piece. One of their studies revealed that 50% of their software projects were never delivered and one-third of delivered projects were never used. These inefficient and corrupt fools then bypassed the whole issue by asking Carnegie Mellon University for a solution. Those morons came out with SEI CMM (Software Engineering Institute Capability Maturity Model). This was adopted by industry without question and for years experienced project managers were denied jobs because they did not have training or experience in SEI-CMMM. It is only in recent times that people have realized that the whole thing was stupid and a waste of everyone’s time. Even before they got rid of this ghost, it was periodically harmed by hysteria such as agile, stack ranking, frameworks, and other common-sense alternatives.

In my CBSE high school grammar book, there were 9 parts of speech and they began with the articles a and an. In the W&M, (at least it seems to be now that) articles are part of adjectives. That’s fine because they also describe a noun just like other adjectives. In the Oxford grammar book, interjections have been eliminated, and articles and other forms of adjectives have subsumed in to what are called as determiners. Ouch! Why did they even bother? All of these so-called determiners are just adjectives!

There are no interjections in Oxford grammar. Articles have been folded into what are called 'determiners.'

Anyway, S Chand says it is the oldest and biggest publisher of educational books in India. (Textbooks in India are bigger than other forms of publishing.) I am not sure if S Chand is as big it once was. There are definitely a whole lot more publishers now.

The reason I went for W&M was the poor language and grammar that I found in the state board school textbooks. Using the Oxford grammar book was out of question. In India, W&M English rules. The Oxford book tried to be easy while being detailed but failed in both. W&M is simple and makes sense.

So, why are schools using these substandard textbooks? It is a long story. When I was in school, we had English reader and non-detailed books published by Orient Longman and Gulmohar. (After our school got affiliated with CBSE, we switched to several NCERT/CBSE books.) After Longman was purchased by Pearson, Orient Longman changed name to Orient Blackswan. Gulmohar is now an imprint of Orient Blackswan.

I was also looking for a maths textbook and found that prices from big publishers were way above what lower middle class people can afford. (The textbooks are mainly targeted at CBSE and ICSE students.) The substandard English textbook used by my kid’s school as part of Karnataka State board is priced at just 70-80 even though it is in full color. The Orient Blackswan textbooks are above 200 and I am not even sure if it was in color.

I did find a better quality maths textbook by one publisher Bharti Bhawan priced at 100 but their books are devoid of color. The authors have retained the copyright with them and the publisher has not even have left their website or email address in the book.

The problem with these publishers may be that they print the books in Delhi where costs could be high. There is only one place in India where you can publish high-quality books in full color at a very very low price and that is Sivakasi, the place in Tamil Nadu from where all the Diwali fireworks come.

So, my advice to all these Delhi publishers is to visit the factories in Sivakasi and ask Delhi printers to match the price.

Established big-name Indian textbook publishers should also focus on state board student textbook market. They need to first cut their price. Sivakasi can help with that.

Pearson has been buying up all independent textbook and educational publishers. There are very few independent educational publishers left. (Have you noticed beloved Camlin stationery company is now part-owned by Mitsubishi Pencil) They have also put their people in the United Nations and are imposing their coursework on all over the world. Bill Gates has also jumped on their bandwagon and want all school teaching to be transferred online (on Microsoft Azure cloud running Pearson e-learning, of course). It is a bad omen if the fox is licking the lambs, as Navjot Sidhu once said.

Pearson-Microsoft’s product is called Common Core and this is being imposed on schools all over the United States by the Obama government. The Common Core system is also being imposed on schools all over the world via the United Nations. People from Pearson-Microsoft meet the top officials of school boards and their Common Core curriculum gets imposed down the line without any consultation. Parents, teachers, students, and school administrators have all bitterly complained about the Pearson-Microsoft product but the relentless assault on the traditional form of school learning goes on unabated. The Common Core curriculum has been faulted for dumbing down education, overloading school administration with non-teaching staff while pushing more computer sales, software licenses and cloud contracts.

Pearson is so sure about its education market fortunes that their are shedding Financial Times newspaper and Economist magazine (Economist claims it is a newspaper on the cover) to focus on its core incompetency.

Don’t think India will not fall under their global sweep. Already, the former DMK government has taken the first steps in Tamil Nadu. They called it Samacheer Kalvi, which is the exact Tamil translation for Common Core Education.

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A review of Bangalore Book Festival 2014 – venue, books, and sellers

If going by auto, tell the driver to go to 7th Phase, JP Nagar or Puttenahalli.

The Elaan Convention Center is really big with ample parking. Contrary to my fears, the exhibition was as big as those held previously at Palace Grounds.

Karntaka CM Siddaramaiah owes me Rs. 400 in extra auto charges, as he was the one who refused permission to host the exhibition for 10 days at Palace Grounds. He let bars be open beyond midnight on the advice of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Mohandas Pai and gang, but no permission for a book exhibition!

Bus should be the transport of choice if you don’t own a vehicle. Earlier, it me cost only Rs 25  by auto to reach Palace Grounds.

A book exhibition is a good opportunity to find books that you may not see otherwise. The Dictionary of Indology by Dr. Vishnulok Bihari Srivatsava by Pustak Mahal (the Rapidex people) was a great find for me because most “Indologists” are either Westerners or Indians totally sold on British East India Company timelines. Dr. Srivatsava is not like that.

There were several stalls by multimedia DVD publishers. I bought a Learn Kannada DVD for my use. One vendor was selling a really economical monthly DVD magazine subscription for children. I forgot the name of the brand. It is probably http://www.ebalak.net. It is a novel idea. He seemed to have put his heart and soul into it but I don’t want my kid to use computers just yet. I feel TV and computer programs interferes with a kid’s natural learning process. However, it might be a good option for schools if they need to keep kids engaged with a computer for a short while.

I ran short of cash and could not buy several books. There was a book by Manohar Malgonkar titled The Men Who Killed Gandhi. My first book by Malgonkar was humorous title whose name I have forgotten. I later found another book in Connemara Library where he introduced himself as the original author of the Shalimar, the more famous Dharmendra-Hemamalini Hindi film. That book was better than any Sidney Sheldon novel you can find. In this book, he says he lived right next Birla House where Gandhi was killed. He also says that being a Marathi speaker all those who were arrested for the assassination plot spoke freely with him. I will buy that book later.

There was another book that I would have liked to buy Digital fonts – The Complete Guide to Creating, Marketing and Selling by Alec Julien. Nadakatum Naaku Vyabaram in the Vikatan press stall seemed very promising. There were many others.

How to increase book sales at exhibitions: Here is some advice to the people who man the stalls. Don’t pounce on visitors and tell them buy your merchandise. It will not work. Also, don’t track them like a living CCTV camera. Or, do the opposite such as hiding yourself in a newspaper. Be there when you are needed. The first stall I entered had the best approach. The guy there waited until I picked a book and browsed through it, and then he gave me a small introduction on the book and the author, and left. He did the same on several books I showed interest and finally I bought two books and picked up their catalog.