Elementary education forms the basis of mental development in children and equips them with the skills, confidence and competence that are needed to lead their life as they grow up. From 1950 to the present, India’s education sector has witnessed enormous progress in terms of an increase in the number of institutions; rise in enrollment for primary and secondary education; increase in the enrollment of girls and students belonging to the weaker sections of the society; and growth in the number of teachers and teacher training institutes.
While education is still a distant dream for those children, who are living and working on the roadside and suffer the miseries of being illiterate, yet another situation that cannot be brushed under the carpet is the state of India’s education course material. Qualitative and comprehensive education is the cornerstone of a meaningful career and a purposeful life. To apprehend the harsh realities, the quality of education especially in the KG-to-Class-12 regime is a huge concern in terms of the course quality, relevance of syllabus to the modern world and preparation of the young India for the future with the time-warped format and content.
National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the apex government agency that decides what and how children in the 8,000 plus public and private schools nationwide will study between the ages of five and 17, has a huge role to play in our life. Unlike the private publishers, the NCERT works on a no-profit, no-loss basis, and are the least priced textbooks in India addressing the needs of the primary and secondary education system.
One major mandate for the NCERT is the periodic renewal of curricula and a syllabus relevant to the present era. Recently, the Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar announced a systematic review of textbooks and study material by the NCERT for the first time after they came into being back in 2007.
The Minister stressed that this review among other functions including updating of curriculum would look into the accuracy of the content published and analyse its wide reaching impact on impressionable mind and society at large. To appreciate the context, a flashback into certain facts is imperative. A Hindi textbook for six-year-old students included the word “chokri”, a North Indian slang for “a girl” that was seen as having derogatory undertones.
In April 2012, the Republican Party of India-Athavale, a political party, demanded a ban on an eleventh grade text book by the NCERT, saying a cartoon in the book insulted Bharat Ratna Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who spearheaded the writing of the Indian Constitution in the Constituent Assembly. It shows Dr. Ambedkar sitting on a snail, which is labelled ‘Constitution’ cracking a whip. Various instances have been brought out and criticised where false interpretation and wrong information was found in these textbooks.
Be it for controversial content in history textbooks, where national heroes like Bhagat Singh were referred as a terrorist or controversial and demeaning content about a woman’s body in Biology textbooks, the literacy of India’s youth is in jeopardy. Dinanath Batra, an education activist seeking a more indigenous content in the textbooks, has won 10 lawsuits against the NCERT for up to 75 ‘objectionable passages’ from various textbooks.
The riots and wars are also presented in a manner, which foments rifts among the impressionable minds of students. Sadly, the current situation has led to a degree of mistrust and misunderstanding across the education system and the ministry. A more recent controversy is over the demarcation of Aksai Chin as part of China in a 12th standard political science textbook that directly question the nation’s integrity and sovereignty.
India is grappling with the twin challenge of skilling millions of youth and employment generation for engaging them in gainful employment. India cannot afford to lose conceptual focus of its primary and secondary education and make it prey to political, social, religious agendas and factual inaccuracies. With the government’s increased focus on education, including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, promotion of vocational training and skill development, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, use of technology and several other initiatives, the review in the course content is the need of the hour and is a step in the right direction.
While such errors have crept in, it is unfair to condemn the NCERT in totality. It has published some good textbooks that have groomed some of the finest Indian minds. Nowadays, one often reads about the success story of a child from the poor and under-privileged society, who topped in the Secondary education examination, and has only read the NCERT textbooks all his life.
In the ideological tug-of-war going on in the education system, India should not lose sight of the heart, that is, the nation and its young generation, which will be its future.