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More space in school textbooks for ancient Indian knowledge systems and tradition

An analysis of 25 books, meant for Classes 6 to 10, reveals new information on yoga, ayurveda, teachings of Upanishads and scientific achievements of ancient India

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi |
May 29, 2018 5:46:35 am
(Representational image)

Ancient Indian knowledge, tradition and practices now find more space in the new NCERT textbooks that hit the shelves in March, shows a content analysis of 25 textbooks by The Indian Express.

Books meant for students of Classes 6 to 10 carry new or additional information on ancient Indian philosophy, ayurveda, yoga, teachings of Upanishads and smritis and scientific achievements of ancient India in areas such as astronomy and metallurgy.

These changes are part of the textbook review — the first since 2007 — undertaken last year by the NCERT, an autonomous organisation that advises the HRD Ministry on school education. They assume significance against the backdrop of the growing demand from BJP and the RSS to give more space to the country’s ancient past in school textbooks.

ALSO READ | New icons in NCERT books: Bajirao to Maharana Pratap

Speaking at a lecture series organised by IGNOU and the Sangh-backed Bhartiya Shikshan Mandal in August last year, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar had mentioned that NCERT will work on giving students a better understanding of Bharat and its “glorious past”.

“We will replicate such courses with NCERT because we think our true identity begins with the identity of our nation. Without knowing it, we will not be able to decipher the truth about the world. We are open to discussions about the value of our past,” Javadekar had said.

The Indian Express compared old and new versions of 25 textbooks across five subjects – History, Geography, Political Science, Science and English. The comparison revealed new and additional content on the country’s ancient past not only in history textbooks, but also in science and geography. Consider the key additions:

* Chapter 7 of Class 6 History textbook (‘Our Pasts – I’) introduces students to the six schools of Indian philosophy: Vaishesika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimansa and Vedanta or Uttara Mimansa. These are believed to have been founded by sages Konada, Gotama, Kapila, Patanjali, Jaimini and Vyasa.

* Chapter 12 of the same book now carries information on ayurveda. The new paragraph reads: “Ayurveda is a well known system of health science that was developed in ancient India. The two famous practitioners of Ayurveda in ancient India were Charaka (1st-2nd centuries C.E.) and Sushrut (c. 4th century C.E.). Charak Samhita, written by Charak, is a remarkable book on medicine. In his treatise, Susruta Samhita, Sushruta speaks about elaborate surgical procedures.”

* Although the old version of the Class 6 Geography textbook (‘The Earth Our Habitat’) already had material on astronomer Aryabhatta, NCERT has added more information on him in chapters 1 and 3. Chapter 17 of the Class 10 Science book, too, has additional text on Aryabhatta including his work on the Earth’s diameter, solar and lunar eclipses.

* The Class 6 Science textbook introduces yoga as “an invaluable gift of the ancient Indian tradition” and highlights its health benefits such relieving joint pain and a healthy heart. This has been introduced in Chapter 8 on body movements.

* Chapter 17 of the Class 8 Science textbook touches on ancient India’s achievements in astronomy and states that the practice of astronomy is mentioned in Rig Veda. “In ancient India our ancestors performed methodical observations of sky. Their knowledge of astronomy was highly advanced for their time. Passage of the Sun, stars, moon and planets in the sky helped them to devise calenders and almanacs.”

* In Chapter 17 of the Class 8 Science textbook, NCERT has added new information on what ancient Indian mythology says about the constellation Ursa Major, also known as Saptarshi. It states: “According to ancient mythology the seven sages who form the Saptarshi, preserve the eternal knowledge of Vedas and explain it to people in every new age.”

* Chapter 16 of the Class 10 Science textbook quotes two hymns from Atharva Veda to demonstrate how sustainable living has always been an integral part of India’s tradition and culture.

The chapter also states: “During the Vedic period, both productive as well as protective aspect of forest vegetation were emphasised. This was the time when the concept of cultural landscape such as sacred forests and groves, sacred corridors and a variety of ethno-forestry practices were evolved that continued to the post-Vedic period, besides a wide range of ethnoforestry practices were infused with the traditions, customs and rituals and followed as a means for protection of nature and natural resource.”

“All the changes and additions made to the textbooks are as per the public feedback received by the Council,” said a senior NCERT official, who did not wish to be identified.

NCERT has made roughly 1,334 changes, which include additions, correction and data update, in its 182 textbooks. Of these, the maximum changes (573) have been made to science books, followed by social science (316) and Sanskrit textbooks (163).

This is the first comprehensive review of NCERT textbooks after the National Curriculum Framework was drafted in 2005. A curriculum revision is also overdue but will only happen once the new education policy is unveiled by the Union government.

Tomorrow: Part II – A new set of nationalist icons

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