Updated: June 7, 2022 1:26:08 pm
During a recent interview while promoting his movie ‘Samrat Prithviraj’, actor Akshay Kumar said history of rulers like Prithviraj Chauhan “should be written about” in Indian history textbooks. He also appealed to the Union Education Minister to look into the matter.
Twitter users quickly responded by either supporting Kumar’s view for revised textbooks, or countering him and arguing that textbooks already do teach about the topics he mentioned. This debate has raged over the years, and successive governments at both state and the central-level have often been accused of promoting their own ideologies through textbooks.
But who actually decides the content of history textbooks read by students across the country, and how do they do it?
Who decides the content of Indian history textbooks?
Education as a subject comes under both the state and central governments according to the Constitution, meaning both the states and central governments have a role to play here.
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Further, India has multiple education boards across the country that decide crucial matters such as conducting exams and deciding the syllabus in schools. State education boards, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE), are a few examples. They are autonomous or independent bodies.
They make decisions based on the guidelines laid down by The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). An autonomous organisation, set up in 1961 by the government “to assist and advise the Central and state governments” for improving the quality of education, NCERT’s objectives include the task of preparing and publishing model textbooks. Its chairman is appointed by the central government.
For deciding the content of textbooks, the NCERT is currently preparing a document called the National Curriculum Framework (NCF). It was last prepared in 2005 under the UPA government, and before that, it was revised in 1975, 1988 and 2000. The NCF will have broad guidelines for the revised syllabus that will be followed by the boards for their textbooks.
How are these guidelines laid down?
The NCF is being developed according to the recommendations given in the National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020. While releasing the guidelines for the NCF in April 2022, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said: “If NEP is the guiding philosophy, then NCF is the pathway and this mandate is the constitution.”
Calling it “a step towards decolonisation of the Indian education system”, Pradhan said focus will be on areas such as the holistic development of children, vital role of teachers, learning in mother tongue, and cultural rootedness.
In September 2021, a committee was set up to draft these guidelines and will draft the final version later.
The National Steering Committee includes 12 members and is headed by former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan. The committee also includes National Book Trust chairman Govind Prasad Sharma, who has been the president of RSS’s education wing Vidya Bharati that runs schools across India.
Michel Danino, author of ‘The Lost River: On The Trail of Saraswati’, Jamia Millia Islamia University Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhtar, and Manjul Bhargava, a winner of The Fields Medal — known as the Nobel Prize of Mathematics — are some other members.
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What happens next?
The Ministry of Education (MoE) and NCERT have a strategy in place. All states and UTs will develop their State Curriculum Frameworks (SCFs) after district-level consultations, surveys, and position papers by state-level focus groups in 25 areas–such as science, gender education, social studies, etc.
The State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) draw up the SCFs. Usually, the state drafts are modelled on the central draft, but a new bottom-up approach is being followed this time.
After analysing inputs received from the district-level consultations, states and national-level surveys, the National Focus Group will prepare 25 position papers on the identified areas. NCF will be prepared after drawing insights from these papers and the draft SCFs.
Finally, the draft NCF will be shared with the states/UTs for their comments and after possible changes, it will be placed before the Ministry of Education for approval. The document will be then sent to states and UTs for implementation.
The NCF’s revisions have a history of causing discontent among groups. After the 2005 NCF’s recommendations, the NCERT replaced a book on Gautam Buddha for Class 8 with Jawahar Lal Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’. This did not go down well with All India Confederation of SC/ST organisations Chairman Udit Raj, at the time.
He had said: “NCERT has suddenly replaced the famous Buddha Charita. Earlier, the NCERT blamed the BJP for saffronisation and influencing school textbooks. Now, they have also resorted to a sort of Nehru/Gandhi-centric vision replacing Buddha Charita with Nehru’s Bharat Ek Khoj.”
Can some changes be made without this process?
Yes, because these large-scale changes happen once in decades. Even apart from them, NCERT can suggest changes which can include corrections, data updations etc.
History books were last changed significantly for Class 9 and Class 10 in 2019. In Class 9, deleted chapters included the history of clothing, the history of cricket, and one on capitalism and colonialism.
What can be expected in the upcoming revisions?
Apart from the areas of focus mentioned by Dharmendra Pradhan, committee member Govind Prasad Sharma shared his views. He told The Indian Express in October 2021: “The history that is taught today only talks about hum yahan har gaye, hum wahan haar gaye (we lost here, we lost there). But we need to discuss the struggles, the valiant fights put up against foreign invaders during battles. We don’t highlight enough of that.”
Sharma also mentioned Vedic Mathematics as a topic that needs to be taught. “The curriculum will be such that it helps develop social harmony and national pride. We will take a forward-looking approach rather than spending time on the shortcomings,” he added.
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