The university press, after 103 years in India, has found a way to leverage digital technologies to add value to print resources. Ranjan Kaul, managing director, Oxford University Press India, explains to Dibyajyoti Sarma
How is the Oxford University Press (OUP) India, with a legacy of 103 years in the country, reinventing itself within the changing publishing scenarios? The answer is simple: By exploring new markets, such as adult ELT and assessments, while embracing technology.
“We have been in all fields of learning, from pre-primary school material to academic research,” says Ranjan Kaul, managing director, Oxford University Press India. “Besides, OUP is known for its dictionaries.”
While continuing to strengthen these programmes, OUP has now identified adult English language teaching (ELT) as a new area of publishing.
According to Kaul, the idea is to meet the aspirations of the English language learners, people who may or may not have had an English-medium education but who are now struggling to get jobs, because of their deficiencies in English. It also includes professionals, who may have the technical skills, but lack in the proficiency of the language.
For this, OUP has introduced comprehensive self-learning materials, including dictionaries and grammar books, using the bilingual medium. “English remains the language of business in India. The market in the segment is growing and we saw a requirement,” says Kaul.
He adds that bilingual content enables an aspirant who has completed his education in a local language to teach himself English, via his own language.
Kaul shows us some bilingual books, in Bangla and Hindi. He says there are plans to publish these bilingual materials in 12 languages.
This Indian aspiration to learn English post conventional education, however, is not new. There are training institutes, good or bad, in every corner of the country, which claim to teach aspirants English in a matter of days. Apart from these rudimentary set-ups in small towns, there are also organisations in the metro cities, which offer similar services of teaching English to adult, educated aspirants.
OUP is aware of the market dynamics and over the years it has aligned itself with the reality of the situation. “Apart from publishing self-learning materials focusing on the aspiration of the learner, we are also approaching the language training schools. We are talking to them for a possible partnership,” says Kaul, adding, “The problem is most of these institutions do not have even qualified teachers. So, we will offer to train the teachers, besides providing them the material and the teaching tools. If they can do a good job, we can look at the probability of endorsing them.”
“So, there is another market, training English language teachers, we are interested in. We have the resources and the knowhow,” adds Kaul. He says OUP India on an annual basis conducts 800-1,000 teacher training workshops on all subjects, including ELT.”
The use of bilingual content to teach English as a second language may sound surprising to many, but, as Kaul explains, OUP India has had recent success with its bilingual dictionaries. One of OUP’s mainstays over the years has been its dictionaries. In the recent years, with the availability of dictionaries in laptops and mobiles, the sale of English dictionaries is on the decline globally. By contrast, the bilingual dictionaries that OUP India publishes in all major Indian languages are doing rather well. This opened up the door for the new venture. “Besides, we publish a lot of English language teaching material in the UK, for the second language adult learning market. Those have been tried and tested, and they deliver results,” Kaul adds.
Teaching and Learning
Another new area that OUP is exploring is providing teaching aids in the school segment, with a focus on digital. “We are preparing ourselves for digital,” says Kaul. “In India, we are 103 years old. About 70% of our turnover comes from the school segment. We are familiar with the schools market, what the opportunities are, what the schools are looking for. In the recent years, a lot of technology companies came in with some kind of digital solution. Most of them were far from satisfactory. So, some schools approached us, asking if we wanted to do it.”
The major problem as regards to primary school education is that there is no appropriate content and there is no standard. Kaul says in the last two-three years, OUP is providing print materials and other digital content as teaching aids, to support print, and to support teaching in the classroom. “Print material is still the focus, which digital content is being offered as an additional aid,” adds Kaul.
After the success with the teachers, the schools are now asking OUP India if they can provide digital content for the students as well, for devices. This, the company can, but according to Kaul, this digital content is not going to be a substitute for print, the actual books in the syllabus. “The materials we provide have additional interactivity, to enhance learning, as a learning aid,” says Kaul.
In this area, the other important aspect OUP India is working on is student evaluation in a classroom setting. “We are looking at measuring learning outcomes. Are the marks a teacher gives at the end of the class adequate to measure performance? So, we are also developing assessments, which can measure skills,” Kaul says.
The project is called Oxford Achiever, an online assessment module which students follow concurrent with the regular classroom teaching and learning. It has been running successfully in several schools in Hong Kong, and OUP India has customised it to Indian requirement.
“With this, we will be able to assess classroom teaching, and it is diagnostic. Based on the students’ response, we identify the areas of weakness and offer suggestions how the students can improve their abilities in a particular subject. The report goes to the teachers as well, so the teacher is also in the loop,” Kaul explains.
“We did a pilot in seven-eight schools, out of which five said they wanted to continue this. This is encouraging and we will be launching the complete assessment solution in a few months,” he says, adding that the focus is not necessarily on elite city schools, but also B-category schools and schools in tier-two, and -three cities.
Making Digital Work for Print
We come to the same old question that we keep asking the print leaders: Is the digital media making print obsolete? Kaul answers in negative. He says he does not see digital technology replacing print in the near future. He gives the example of the UK, where print is still relevant. In the content of school education, he gives the example of the international schools, where books are still being used despite the prevalence of all sorts of digital teaching-learning tools.
“Digital can certainly aid and enhance the teaching-learning process.” Kaul explains. “Over the years, the learning methods have changed and children have become visual learners. It is a positive in terms of pedagogy. So, teachers now can use not only the blackboard, but also a digital screen to explain a difficult concept.”
He gives the example of the heart. It is difficult to explain the workings of a heart through a picture. Now, a teacher can show the students how the heart works with the help of an animation.
“We are now using an integrated print and digital workflow,” says Kaul, “Now, when we conceive a course, we decide what will go in digital and what will go in print. Everything is conceptualised at the initial stage.”
OUP uses a technology called Ariel, wherein if a student scans a picture in his printed book with a smartphone, it leads him to an animated version of the picture on the phone. “We are linking a lot of this kind of learning objects to print. So, it is adding value to print,” he says.
Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford and has played a key role in the University's work since its first published work in 1586. It is the largest and most successful university press in the world with offices in fifty countries and publishes more than 6,000 new resources a year across the academic and educational spectrum.
From its first locally published book in 1912, OUP India it has expanded its output to include a wide range of educational and academic resources - from scholarly works and higher education textbooks to school courses, bilingual dictionaries, and digital resources for teaching-learning.
In India, the company has three broad divisions – school education, higher education and global academic. As the names imply, they cater to these specific markets.
Piracy is a major issue among publishers. Kaul says even OUP India faces the threats of piracy, but not to the extent the publishers of best-selling trade books, where piracy is more rampant. “Piracy in the institutional framework is limited in India, as booksellers in India do not keep pirated books in their stores” says Kaul.
He adds that more than India, piracy is far more rampant in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. “In India, the situation is not that bad, as police are now more aware of the copyright laws, and publishers themselves can take legal action,” he concludes.
About Ranjan Kaul
Ranjan Kaul, managing director, Oxford University Press, India, has over three decades of publishing experience and has held senior editorial and management positions in leading publishing companies in India. A post-graduate in English Literature from the University of Delhi, he also holds an Engineering degree from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur. Ranjan writes and paints in his spare time and is the author of Through the Forest, Darkly, a work of fiction published by Hachette.
Rapid fire with Ranjan Kaul
What is the best thing you like about OUP?
Its undying commitment to education, innovation and quality.
What you like most about Indian publishing industry?
Its commitment to education and literacy.
What according to you is lacking in the industry?
Greater awareness of piracy and copyright issues.
Your predications for the next five years?
The future certainly looks very bright
OUP in numbers
Number of books (units) published so far: 23 million
Number of employees: Approximately 750
Number of printers associated with OUP India: 10 to 12
(This feature was first published in PrintWeek India, 2015.)