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Of vote banks & Textbooks

 

Karnataka's latest decision to undo changes introduced by the previous BJP government in the social science course signals another round of caste-based politics
SUPRABHA NK | Issue Dated: December 8, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Karnataka | CRST | BJP | AHINDA | Siddaramiah-led |
 

In 2010, Karnataka was overtaken by a major controversy over saffronisation of text books, especially the social science curriculum. Then, in an avalanche of criticism, a so-called Committee for Resisting Saffronisation of Textbooks (CRST) came into being demanding that the Karnataka government withdraw social science textbooks of Class 6 and 9 alleging the two courses had strong saffron inclinations – accompanied of course by unreliable information.

 

The controversy had more or less taken a backseat with the BJP gone and Congress well entrenched into power. Now the State government is planning to revive its detoxification drive and remove some portions from existing social science courses which were added in the BJP regime as part of its Hindutva drive. Naturally, you can expect trouble.

 

In fact the Siddaramiah-led Congress government in the State seems to be lurching from one controversy to another; from the chief minister’s attempts to carve up AHINDA (See box), Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits as a political coalition to the State government’s aborted midday meal scheme.

 

But in a sense, Siddaramiah is doing nothing spectacularly new. In Karnataka, in the last few years, government-run primary and secondary schools have become experimental guinea pigs for ideologies propagated by parties that have won a majority in the State assembly. Until 2006, when the BJP was out of power, it was alleged that schools were propagating leftist and Congress worldviews. When the BJP came in, it was accused of fostering Hindutva through the education system in an effort to influence young minds.

 

In 2005, as per NCERT guidelines, the then JDS/BJP government set up a mixed committee of members belonging to BJP and centrist political persuasions to rewrite textbooks, especially those of the history course. When the BJP government took over independently in 2008, it restructured the committee by removing all Socialist members and installed RSS leader Mudibaditthaya as its main coordinator. Not surprisingly, most new members belonged to the Sangh. Protests began to mount in March 2009 after the first draft of these textbooks was made public.

 

Similarly in May 2002, 16 education ministers from non-BJP-ruled States had walked out of a general body meeting of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in New Delhi protesting against the controversial National Curriculum Framework for School Education introduced by the NDA government. The document was attacked for its attempts to inject religious and ideological bias into school textbooks and classroom teaching.

 

In the most recent developments, the Karnataka government has ordered the Department of State Education Research and Training (DSERT) to oversee revision of text books, maintaining that only controversial parts should be removed. But there is still no clarity on what is considered `controversial’ or `sensitive’. "We have complaints from different organisations regarding some of the content in textbooks. We are checking if some issues in these textbooks hurt the feelings of any community or religion. We are trying to change the sentences or the words which are said to be causing the hurt,” said Karnataka’s primary and secondary education minister Kimmane Ratnakar. (See interview.) Educationists say the NCERT’s comprehensive National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of 2005 should ideally be the guiding document for State and Union Territories to revise their curriculum and syllabus for various disciplines including social sciences. But in Karnataka, the DSERT has not framed a State-level curriculum framework till date. This process becomes doubly important in the case of social sciences, always sensitive and prone to misinterpretation of historical facts to suit the political and ideological underpinnings of ruling governments.

 

In Karnataka – like in some other States – there is an expert academic body or committee that undertakes revision within the larger framework laid down by the central government from time to time. However, the question of objectivity and transparency depends upon the ruling party and people appointed. New governments tend to dissolve or overlook this body and depend upon their ideological soul mates to infuse party ideologies.

 

 The Siddaramiah government has announced its resolve to do the same even though it has decided to continue with the current dispensation because of time constraints: the books have to be sent for printing by June 1. "Our books should reflect India’s constitutional values and not ideologies of any political party. There should be no connection between changing political dispensations with a change in curriculum of schools and colleges," says V. P. Niranjan Aradhya, eminent academician and fellow at the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University.

 

 

He agrees that the BJP when in power in the State, it tried saffronising textbooks, particularly in the social sciences. The concept of building cultural neutrality and nurturing critical thinking was missing. The draft of the social science textbook did not reflect the concept of world peace as suggested in the framework. “I welcome efforts of the present government to reinvent cultural neutrality. But, I will object if new government wants to implement its own ideology,” Aradhya says.
The NCF while emphasizing the need for teaching social sciences in schools says that "social science perspectives and knowledge are indispensable in building a knowledge base for a just and peaceful society. The content should aim at raising students’ awareness through critically exploring and questioning of familiar social reality”.

 

It further recognised that "selecting and organising the material in a meaningful curriculum to enable students to develop a critical understanding of society is therefore a challenging task”. While doing so, the framework reminds us the pluralistic nature of a society like ours and therefore says “it is important that all regions and social groups be able to relate to the textbooks”.

 

It is evident from NCF’s broad guiding parameters that States should follow the basic assumptions while developing the curriculum and thereby ensure that there is no bias or discrepancies in the contents used for developing textbooks. An officer from the education department says several representations have been received against this ideological bias and the State government has promised to look into all these issues and take corrective measures.

 

There are some unintended consequences as well. Many academicians feel that this ideological confrontation will push students away from State board schools. Already State schools are finding it difficult to get adequate number of students and many of them have closed down.

 

However, successive State governments have failed to adhere to the NCF while revising textbooks. Most experts believe professionalism is need of the hour, as also the desirability of letting education stay culturally neutral. What been found objectionable by them is the theory in saffronised textbooks that it were the Brahmans who created India. Some said the thesis was racist. They say that there is a need to address this recurring question beyond party politics in a more professional and academic manner. "To bring the discussion into the academic circle, particularly by involving teachers who are responsible for transacting the contents prescribed in text books, one needs to understand that there are broad parameters or frameworks for the revision of curriculum followed by syllabus on the basis of which text books need to be revised or modified," sums up Aradhya. Good point for ruling politicians to follow.

 

'We do not wish to impose any ideology on students'

 

Kimmane Ratnakar, Karnataka’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister talks to Suprabha NK about the latest controversy

Is the government planning to review text books for the next academic year 2014-15, especially social science text books?

 

We are not changing textbooks altogether. Considering the complaints from various registered organisations, we have ordered a scrutiny of unethical issues discussed in textbooks which are hurting the sentiments of a community or religion. We are trying to change sentences or words which are controversial. The process of changing the full book will take a year and cannot be done in a rush. We will embark upon it later. In any case, we will decide whether to change the whole book or not after a thorough assessment. Replacing a full article with a new one necessitates research and is time consuming.

 

What exact changes do you have in mind?

 

We have received complaints from several organisations and I have referred the matter to the review committee for further detailing. It is up to them to delete words or sentences in order to not hurt the feelings of any community or religion.

 

Are the complaints related to saffronisation of content?

 

I have heard this word from the media and I don’t know about it in detail. Some organisations have given us written complaints of which we are taking action and have asked the committee to probe. There are people in committee who are selected by the earlier government and I can’t change them right now. If we interfere and change the committee in a hurry, it will take an additional nine months to print the textbooks.

 

Why is there no curriculum framework based on the broad framework developed by the centre before revising the syllabus and text books?

 

Yes there is an urge to implement common educational framework and we are considering that option for future.

 

For the last few years, government-run primary and secondary schools in the State have become victims of the ideological propaganda. How you explain this situation?

 

These are all allegations and there is no basis for them. They are not suggesting any solutions; simply attacking the government and its schemes. I will try to improve the situation. If people suggest good ideas, we will try to implement it.

 

When the BJP was out of power till 2006, it was alleged that schools were propagating leftist and Congress ideology. When the BJP came to power, there were charges that the party was trying to propagate Hindutva through the education system.

 

Our government never tries to infuse political ideologies on young minds. We don’t have any objective of imposing our political ideas in the education sector. We are committed to giving information and knowledge to the students which they should get from education.

 

Don’t you think textbooks should reflect constitutional values and not ideologies of political parties?

 

We are trying to uphold constitutional values while giving information to students. Right now my concern is to print the books as soon as possible so that students get them in time by June 1, 2014. If we delay printing, books may not be available on time.

 

What is your take on the allegation that your government is pushing the AHINDA ideology in the education sector?

 

There are allegations everywhere and on everything. We are merely trying to correct the loopholes.

 

But, people who make this charge allege that the latest guidelines state that AHINDA students alone are eligible for the government grant for school excursions.

 

That excursion programme doesn’t come under the education sector. The tourism and social welfare department arranged them. The education department doesn't have any schemes exclusively for AHINDA sections and we don’t believe in dividing students on the basis of cast or creed. So, you should ask concerned departments to get proper answer for this question.

 

When the BJP government was in power, its decision to introduce egg as part of the mid-day meal led to State-wide protests and government withdrew the notification but the current government is in favour of introducing the same policy.

 

We are yet to decide on whether eggs should be given to students or not. The Chief Minister will take a decision on this at an appropriate time and we will implement whatever needs to be done. We need to think also about the budget before going in for such a big scheme.  

 

'You cannot change school courses on the basis of religion or politics'

 

Rajendra Buradikatti, is winner of the National Award for Best Teacher Primary and secondary school, 2012. He is best placed to take a call on this frequent change of courses.Excerpts from an interview:

 

As a teacher what is your take on the government’s decision to review textbooks? Irrespective of BJP or Congress, every time a new government is formed they change textbooks.

 

Textbooks should not be changed or reviewed for political reasons. When we change text books for political reasons it creates several problems. I heard the primary education minister saying that books will be reviewed if there are some contents which hurt religious sentiments. Being a multi-cultured society, you cannot deliver contents which hurt a community. The government should review text books time and again but not for religious or political reasons.

 

Have you seen saffronisation of content in school textbooks?

 

Yes. I have seen some history-related content introduced by the BJP government with the purpose of saffronisation.  When we are teaching students from all walks of life, we should take care of everyone’s sentiments. Even if we give facts, they should be provided very sensibly. I have seen some content in textbooks which definitely need to be reviewed.

 

Is it true that the Congress government is trying to infuse AHINDA ideology?

 

We will only know after reading the reviewed textbooks. As of now I have not heard any decision or content which propagate AHINDA or the Congress ideology. At the school level it is necessary to give facilities to AHINDA students. But, any scheme or decisions relating to this may induce a feeling of partiality to other students. AHINDA ideas are good but should be implemented very sensibly without being partial to other students.

 

Do you think textbooks are upholding constitutional values?

 

We were and are confused at all levels to understand the Indian Constitution. We have to first understand the Constitution of India. If we take into account religious freedom, there are many misdoings and people or groups are pursuing secret agendas. So, in reality, there are people who abuse all the rights given by the Constitution, even while they continue to swear by it.

 

What are the problems teachers face when exposed to review of textbooks?

 

There is no point in reviewing just to bring about a change. When I become teacher I was instructing from the same textbooks which I read as a student. One should review textbooks to give and add latest developments and information, not religious or political propaganda.

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Posted By: harsha | Shimioga | December 2nd 2013 | 15:12
very good Story




Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017