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'Remove Service Tax On Education Content'

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How can quality content be ensured in schools?
Quality content requires collaboration between various stakeholders involved in creation of course content. This includes the government, private publishers and the larger education fraternity. In the present scenario while private schools have access to quality content, the government run schools are closed to private publishers. There is no collaboration on delivering content or using the expertise of private publishers to design textbooks for students of government schools. In other parts of the world, such as South East Asia, Africa, Singapore and some other developed markets, private publishers are allowed to produce material for government schools. In India, the National Council of Education Research and Training does that job; the NCERT is actually supposed to provide research and training, but has limited itself to becoming a textbook publisher while it can do more. Publishing is a very specialized industry and increasingly so writing textbooks and developing superior content has become a very specialized task.

A definite way to ensuring quality content is that schools be given a choice on textbooks they wish to use, be it from government or private publishers. What we think is necessary and important is that schools and students should have a right to use quality material, irrespective of where it is coming from. Right now, there is a growing gap between private elite schools that are using textbooks by private publishers and government schools that do not necessarily have access to quality content all the time. That’s where government policies should be so shaped that they are conducive to content development and dissemination of quality education.

Have you ever tried tying up with the government?
We are interested in working with the government towards co-creating high quality content for students. However, due to varying priorities collaboration with government agencies has thus far not been possible. We would expect the new government which has been talking about involving private bodies, to be inviting private publishers to participate in this kind of thing.

Do you see the publishing sector growing in the coming years? How about Education publishing?
The growth rate in education publishing has been around 10-15 per cent year-on-year. For the publishing industry, there has been a slowdown in general interest trade publishers’category because of e-books and readers moving online. Even within education publishing while the enrolment is growing, children are not reading a lot. But the growth in publishing is still coming from the education space and not from the general interest space. People who earlier used to read books for pleasure are now going on social media probably. The time one would spend on reading even a thriller or a mystery novel is now spent on Facebook. The general interest reading has slowed considerably and this has impacted the sector, but education publishing is growing and will continue to grow. With increasing number of parents willing to send their children to private schools and invest in quality content and education, the sector will keep flourishing.

Should the policy makers be looking at making some modifications in tax quotes?
There needs to be a consistent tax structure for print and electronic. Presently, print is tax exempted but online content is taxed, this is unfavorable to education players in particular. Tax can be enforced on entertainment videos and non-educational e-content but not everything that is online should be taxed. In India, where reading habit is not the best we need to encourage people to read (online) if we need to raise the standards of education. It is not just a textbook you want a child to read, you want them to read a wider variety of books like reference, literature, fiction or poetry. How are we going to do that if you are going to tax it?