With the academic year beginning in Karnataka, a row has broken out over textbooks for children studying in state government-affiliated schools. Opposition leaders allege ‘saffronisation’ of textbooks, removal of portions on some personalities, including Narayana Guru, and adding RSS founder KB Hedgewar’s speech in Class X textbook. But the ruling BJP is defending its decision. In an interview with The New Sunday Express, Textbook Review Committee Chairman Rohith Chakrathirtha and development educationist Prof Niranjanaradhya talk to Ashwini M Sripad on this boiling issue.
How important is it to revise textbooks? Does it mean what was being taught till now was wrong?
Rohith Chakrathirtha: There is a need to revise textbooks as there were many lies included in textbooks and it happened when Baraguru Ramachandrappa was the head of the textbook committee in 2017. Prior to that there was balanced content.
Prof Niranjanradhya: It is important to revise textbooks periodically to update knowledge and to bring in new perspectives in the construction of knowledge. Nevertheless, it should be based on a normative framework reflecting the values embodied in the Constitution and the framework provided by experts who have in-depth knowledge on the subject through scientific research based on facts and evidence. The quality of education in the state is deteriorating in the name of revision to meet the ulterior motives of a political ideology of a party. This is nothing but backward looking, muddled and peddling of myths. This is a breach of democratic procedure and methodology needed for any revision process.
Why is there an effort to selectively remove parts that are linked to certain personalities? Doesn’t that amount to conditioning the minds of youngsters towards a certain ideology?
RC: Critics are pointing to certain ideological issues and removal of write-ups by a few personalities with a certain ideology. Does it mean that till now, they were trying to induce a particular ideology in young minds? We are not branding it as left or right and there cannot be such classifications in textbooks. We were focusing on certain issues and trying to make children learn new things, including usage of language. We were also looking for content with fresh ideas. If that criterion was met, we included the content in the textbook, otherwise we removed it.
NA: You are right. Not just conditioning the minds of young children, they also think it is the best time to start poisoning the minds of children with false and communal interpretation of history to meet their political agenda.
Doesn’t this ‘correctional’ approach in textbook content compromise the concept of education?
RC: We have not done anything that compromises the quality of education. We are looking at everything through content. Content is more important than caste, religion, region or gender. In 2014, revised textbooks were introduced and within months, the then state government formed a committee, led by Baragauru Ramachandrappa. On an average, seven lessons per textbook were changed and it was done to give prominence to one particular caste and gender. It affected the quality of textbooks. We are only correcting those mistakes.
NA: Yes, very much. Education should help children think creatively, critically and without any bias. To enable this, we need to choose content based on facts and scientific outlook. Indoctrination of a narrow and sectarian type of knowledge through a correctional approach dwarfs children’s thinking and understanding.
What was found exaggerated about Tipu Sultan that had to be removed from textbooks?
RC It is not about exaggeration. We have removed what we found irrelevant. For example, in a lesson on war, there were parts about social reforms and we got rid of them. In some cases, there were three to four pages of text which was not required. We have reduced the number of pages too. In fact, we have retained the Tiger of Mysuru title given to Tipu Sultan.
NA: When you see things from a communal and religious lens, you find anything and everything exaggerated. We need to see things from the context of one’s contribution and sacrifice in the course of the freedom struggle to liberate India from colonial servitude.
Don’t you foresee the threat of textbooks being frequently revised based on the political ideology of the party that is in power? Will that not confuse students?
RC: Just because it is going to create confusion, we cannot tell lies to the younger generation. We are making an attempt to replace lies and blunders with correct versions. We need to give historic evidence for every line we include in textbooks. We even invited Baraguru Ramachandrappa to have a debate with us and asked him to give evidence on the lessons included. But he has not he has not accepted the offer so far.
NA: It makes textbooks manifestos of political parties. An ideology of a particular type with a myopic political agenda prevails over the larger values embodied in the Constitution and makes it redundant. The worst affected in the process are children.