Last year, while correcting the answersheets of a post-graduate dance exam, Kanak Rele, a Mohiniattam exponent, was left aghast when one of the students listed Michael Jackson and Hrithik Roshan as India's contribution to world dance.
This incident made Rele, founder director of Nalanda Dance Research Centre, worry about the representation of Indian culture in the education system.
Last year, her Centre conducted a survey of more than 600 textbooks used by students studying in schools affiliated to the Maharashtra state board, CBSE and ICSE board and found that not more than 28% of the information in their curriculum relates to Indian culture.
"Our syllabi reflect our cultural heritage very poorly," said Rele.
The survey, 'Discovering India - A Survey of School Textbooks and Curriculum in Maharashtra,' was conducted over 13 months by eight researchers and was commissioned by the Union ministry of culture.
The survey found that texts such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and tales from Panchatantra, Jataka and Hitopadesha were omitted from textbooks but Aesop's Fables had been included.
"It is shocking that the south and north-eastern parts of India are almost neglected in the textbooks which are overwhelmingly tilted toward central and north India," said the survey report, which rated books on different parameters such as tradition and culture, history, heritage, Indian thought and spirituality.
The researchers analysed every lesson in 638 textbooks of three languages (Hindi, Marathi and English), maths, science, social studies and Sanskrit and compared references of any of the above parameters to other information.
The Secondary School Certificate (SSC) textbooks fared the worst with only 22% of the information relating to Indian culture, followed by Central Board of Secondary Education had 26% and the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education (ICSE) 27%.
"I believe Indian culture is very well represented in history and geography. It depends on how progressive each school is to inculcate culture education through different books," said Perin Bagli regional secretary, Association of ICSE Schools in Maharashtra.
The institute submitted the survey findings to the ministry in October 2011 and has also applied for conducting a similar survey in other states of India.