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State experts to blame

The National Curriculum Framework 2005 has spurred a new look at what students receive as standard text.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2006 04:35 IST
Nandita Sengupta
Nandita Sengupta

There’s a buzz in NCERT’s corridors. Don’t look back. Look ahead. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 has spurred a new look at what students receive as standard text. Of course, many ideas in the 2002 Curriculum Framework were also good, but as Savita Sinha, head of the social sciences department put it, “Everything was rushed through. Ideally, the total cycle of creating textbooks takes four to five years, but timeframes have to be crunched nowadays.”

Since NCERT books found their foothold in schools around 1975, textbooks have been updated and revised, but the authorship remained that of NCERT’s faculty, except for history where “eminent” (that word again) historians were roped in. To date, academics vouch for the superior calibre of the likes of Romila Thapar and Bipan Chandra.

NCERT faculty, organised subject-wise, decide along with teachers, subject experts and educationists the syllabus based on curriculum frameworks. Board members okay this, which is then followed by text material compilation, the drafts reviewed followed by production and distribution. Over the years, the layers of review have increased, and more and more people brought in to contribute to the textbook formation. The 2005 NCF saw the roping in of “chief advisors” (the “eminent experts” are back) for every subject area.

It was only in 2000 that the NCERT textbooks in use for over 25 years were put up for scrutiny. Sadly, not much scrutiny took place. Most books were junked and replaced with “new” books, written by a group of “eminent” authors with an approach to history that was described as “saffron”. Denials of bias were proved otherwise by the text. Principals were ill at ease with the preachy style of text and a parochial outlook. The NCERT was accused of bypassing usual practices of classroom testing and feedback from teachers.

Then NCERT director, JS Rajput, almost relished all the controversies he walked into with flamboyance. His institute’s minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, whipped up a right royal saffron omelette, triggered by the curriculum revision that he decided upon without national debate. Most of the egg landed on Rajput’s face. Rajput dodged the core issue of unscientific approach with personalised counter-attacks. So, if it was public accusations by Saradindu Mukherjee, Delhi University historian that his manuscript was distorted or the chairman of Indian Council for Historical Research, MGS Narayanan’s suggestion that the state should have no role in writing history books, Rajput chose to ride roughshod over all, claiming accuracy, with almost political flourish.

Mukherjee’s manuscript was shelved without discussion with the author and replaced by an NCERT version. This, when Mukherjee was the in-charge of handling the content on foreign affairs on BJP’s website. His text was clearly a shade lighter than desirable.

Rajput, a vociferous advocate of ‘correcting’ history, managed to bring together a team of historians whose approach to history matched the Centre’s. The collective academia was appalled. But their only outlet seemed to be newspaper articles, as neither NCERT nor the HRD minister was listening.

The inaccuracies introduced were mistakes — factual as well as the representation. The Indian History Congress released an ‘Index of Errors’. Historians Irfan Habib, Aditya Mukherjee and Suvira Jaiswal who examined the textbooks reported “a strong chauvinistic and communal bias”. Dalits found no mention, neither did any social reformers. The superiority of Hinduism as a religion was emphasised.

But a PIL against the 2002 textbooks in Supreme Court resulted in a stay on the social sciences/ history textbooks. NCERT countered that Rs 25 crore were spent on making the textbooks.

With the change of guard at the Centre, JS Rajput’s term was cut short. With Prof Krishna Kumar joining as director and the finalising of the National Curriculum Framework in 2005,the BJP crop of books fell into disuse. The process was started all over again. In one year, a team of more than 15 historians along with teachers and academicians made three sets of history textbooks (Class VI, IX, XI) that are in use now. No complaints so far, as far as one can tell, except for the inconvenience of the textbooks coming in much after the session began in April.

But there’s still confusion. Why do politicians get away with distorting facts? Authors feel that the media play a role in giving grist to the distortion mill. What's going on?

Tomorrow: The way ahead

First Published: Sep 05, 2006 04:35 IST