Many great free textbooks from India

April 6, 2008, [MD]

I have written about the plan to buy the copyright for textbooks in Indonesia and publish the books online (here, and here). Today I found out, through the excellent Indian book blog Scholars Without Borders that the Indian National Council on Educational Research and Training (NCERT) offers free downloadable versions of many Indian K-12 text books. From this page, you can choose which year, and which subject, and receive the title desired. The first thing you get is a PDF with the contents, and at first I was very disappointed thinking that was the only thing I’d get, about to give up. Then I realized that the TOC is hyperlinked to the individual PDFs for the different chapters. However, these hyperlinks did not work neither in Preview nor in Skim, which I usually use - I had to download Acrobat Reader to view them. I hope at some point they will make available direct links to the different chapters, or better yet, a zip file containing the whole book, for offline reading (also beneficial to those with slow internet).

The books themselves seem great. They have text books for the subjects English, Hindi and Urdu, and for many subjects they also offer a Hindi or an English version, which often seem to be identical. There are all kinds of reasons to applaud this. As a student of Hindi, I love reading the readers made for the initial grades (with beautiful illustrations!), and as I move up, I can use the texts in parallel, reading the Hindi and checking with the English that I understood. Just like I suggested that the huge amount of OpenCourseWare films of classroom lectures from all around the world, especially China and India, might be a gigantic boon to a comparative curriculum researcher, these text books would also be great for someone studying curriculum and pedagogics in India. Something similar to Bjarne Skov’s very interesting analysis of elementary school textbooks in Panjab, Pakistan (in Norwegian).

The thing that would make these books incredibly more useful though, is if they were affixed with a Creative Commons license, which enabled other people to use the material and creative derivatives. This would enable me to use parts of it in my own text books, translate the text, use illustrations in Wikipedia articles, etc. There might even be a lot of Indian NGOs that wish to use part of the material, but change it in different ways to make it more locally appropriate. Licensing it under CC would be great, but it’s not enough however. The final step is to make available the source files that were used in generating the PDFs, whether those are Photoshop Layers, or InDesign files. Otherwise it will be very difficult to for example translate the text, but keep the nice background illustrations.

I hope someone like the great Sarai Foundation or Creative Commons India can talk to NCERT and see if this can be pushed through. I don’t even know if these books were written by NCERT staff, or commissioned from outside writers, who owns the copyright etc. Either way, they are beautiful, and I recommend you have a look at them. If projects from around the world write NCERT and tell them they love the books, but would like them to be freely licensed, that might trigger some Indian pride in a positive way.


Stian Håklev April 6, 2008 Toronto, Canada
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