The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is often in the news for the factual inaccuracies in its textbooks. So the discovery of another bloomer in the Class IX history textbook, Democratic Politics, comes as no surprise. The text mentions Maulana Azad’s birthplace as Uttar Pradesh, although he was born in Mecca. Further, no caption is given for pictures of leaders of the national movement, making it impossible for students to identify them. What is shocking is that despite repeated media reports on mistakes in NCERT’s textbooks, the carelessness seems to continue. It is the history books that make news, for when errors are spotted, invariably a political battle ensues. When the BJP was in power, it was accused of distorting history texts to suit itself. Now the Congress faces similar charges. While the repeated furore over history books of various classes has finally pushed NCERT to redo all its history texts, the serious glitches in textbooks on other subjects are often ignored. Take science texts, for example. They continue to refer to the treatment for smallpox, which has been eradicated, while contemporary diseases find no mention. These texts are replete with incorrect captions and poor diagrams. But the NCERT merrily goes about its business without a care in the world.
When issues of poor production, faulty distribution, shortages and political biases are raised, that hoary chestnut, the ‘expert committee’, is instituted to undertake a review. Far too often, textbooks have been burnt and protests organised against ‘distortions’ and statements that ‘hurt’ communities. Following such outbursts, the offending sections are deleted. In addition, we have to contend with the biases of the oversight committees appointed to rectify errors. Most often, political parties use ‘textbook errors’ to whip up emotions. What they don’t bother about is the fact that most books on different subjects are outdated, dense and add nothing to the child’s knowledge.
The lethargy that marks the NCERT’s bureaucracy is something that schools seem to have accepted. When it comes to actual teaching, however, books from other publishers are preferred. This apathy on the part of teachers is also cause for concern. After all, they should be the ones who should be taking the NCERT to task. What is required is a thorough overhauling of the curriculum framework to bring it up to date with today’s requirements. Children don’t respond to the dry-as-dust texts that NCERT churns out. If the present set-up does not work well enough, NCERT authorities should think of inducting a more vibrant and progressive group of educationists who will make learning not just informative but also fun for our children.