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Monday, July 04, 2022

NCERT’s textbook ‘rationalisation’ exercise raises questions of political intent, is at odds with progressive thrust of NEP

In contrast to the lack of transparency in the NCERT-driven project, much of the NCF procedures are in the public domain. But it seems to be taking a partisan route, at odds with the NEP's scrupulous ideological agnosticism.

By: Editorial |
Updated: June 22, 2022 8:12:18 am
A set of changes involves key fraught moments in the country's recent political history — the Emergency in 1975-77 and the communal violence in Gujarat 2002.

An investigation by this newspaper has revealed that the NCERT is set to effect sweeping changes in social science textbooks for Classes VI to XII. Described as a “rationalisation exercise”, the project raises several questions and concerns. The premier education body’s plans involve deleting content related, for one, to chapters in history that have acquired political overtones under the current ruling establishment — the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. Another set of changes involve key fraught moments in the country’s recent political history — the Emergency in 1975-77 and the communal violence in Gujarat 2002. The revisions will also impact how students learn about the inequities of the caste system and the impact of social and protest movements such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan. As disparate as they look, the proposed deletions and modifications appear to have a common theme – they seem motivated by the urge to protect the authority of the state from questions, arguments and criticism, and to project and promote the notion of a cohesive Hindu society.

In striking contrast with the wide-ranging deliberations undertaken by the NDA government ahead of the finalisation of the new National Education Policy, these textbook revisions are mired in opacity. The NCERT claims to have consulted social scientists not associated with it but the names of these “external experts” are not in the public domain. As this paper’s investigation reveals, tables detailing the deletions were circulated – internally. The stated rationale for the exercise is to reduce the curriculum load to help students make a “speedy recovery” in learning after the disruptions brought about by the Covid pandemic. But as a number of experts have underlined, helping children to get back on their feet will require classroom-level interventions, such as empowering teachers. In any case, pandemic-related exigencies do not require making permanent deletions and attenuating the content of textbooks. The nature and content of the proposed changes and deletions run counter to the social scientist’s mandate of encouraging critical thinking by presenting a complex understanding of social and political processes, with all their diversities, cleavages and inequities. A historian’s task is to depict a nuanced view of the past — the history textbook changes proposed by the NCERT invite questions about political partisanship and pressure on the institution, given that “distortion” and “misrepresentation” of India’s past is a common and insistent refrain of the ruling BJP.

The revision exercise will be followed by drafting of the National Curriculum Framework — one of the requirements of the NEP. In contrast to the lack of transparency in the NCERT-driven project, much of the NCF procedures are in the public domain. But it seems to be taking a partisan route, at odds with the NEP’s scrupulous ideological agnosticism. As this paper’s investigation has also revealed, 24 members with RSS links, some of them serving functionaries, figure in at least 17 of the 25 national focus groups working on curriculum changes. This, along with the erasures proposed by the NCERT, does not augur well for the progressive thrust of the NEP.

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