CBSE text­books treat Par­ti­tion in a nu­anced man­ner, but state boards still take a jaun­diced view of his­tory

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The rad­i­cal de­par­tures NCERT ( Na­tional Coun­cil of Ed­u­ca­tional Re­search and Train­ing) made while im­ple­ment­ing the Na­tional Cur­ricu­lum Frame­work ( NCF2005) changed the face of sev­eral school sub­jects, in­clud­ing his­tory. The ti­tle of the his­tory se­ries for Classes VI to VIII, Our Pasts, sig­ni­fies the new per­spec­tive— that his­tory ac­com­mo­dates the di­verse ways in which re­gions, groups and or­di­nary peo­ple, in­clud­ing women, have ex­pe­ri­enced the past. Shift in the per­spec­tive and struc­ture of se­nior- level text­books is equally sharp. The new text­books demon­strate how his­to­ri­ans work, how they use sources and ev­i­dence, and why in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the same event dif­fer. Old text­books gave a frozen nar­ra­tive, but did not re­veal its ba­sis. The new text­books cul­ti­vate an­a­lyt­i­cal skills and his­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion. The old syl­labus and text­books han­dled cer­tain top­ics with great hes­i­ta­tion. They were con­sid­ered too sen­si­tive to be dis­cussed in de­tail. Par­ti­tion was one such topic. It was dealt with in an of­fi­cial tone and sketchily.

In 1998, when I started work­ing on a com­par­a­tive study of In­dian and Pak­istani text­books ( pub­lished later un­der the ti­tle, Prej­u­dice and Pride; Pen­guin, 2001), I dis­cov­ered that per­cep­tion of Par­ti­tion was the key to un­der­stand­ing the con­trast be­tween the his­to­ries used in the two coun­tries to teach about a com­mon past. My study showed that to Pak­istani chil­dren, Par­ti­tion was pre­sented as a tri­umph, and to In­dian chil­dren, it was pre­sented as a tragedy. In nei­ther case did the text­books at­tempt to ex­plain how Par­ti­tion be­came in­evitable, or why it was ac­com­pa­nied by such hor­rific vi­o­lence. This is no more the case with NCERT’s new text­books. The new text­book for Class XII, Themes in In­dian His­tory— Part III, deals with Par­ti­tion at length. It balances the po­lit­i­cal di­men­sions of Par­ti­tion with the trauma it brought to mil­lions of com­mon peo­ple on both sides of the bor­der. Archival vi­su­als, oral nar­ra­tives, and am­bi­gu­i­ties are dis­cussed. Back­ground in­for­ma­tion is pro­vided in mar­gins and boxes while the main text en­ables the stu­dent to en­gage with the se­quence of events that pushed the pol­i­tics of the 1940s. The ex­er­cises given at the end are de­signed to arouse chil­dren’s in­ter­est in unan­swered ques­tions and coun­ter­fac­tu­als.

This won­der­ful achieve­ment is in­deed a mat­ter of sat­is­fac­tion for In­dia, be­cause Pak­istan has lit­tle to re­port by way of text­book re­forms de­spite many a res­o­lu­tion of SAARC ( South Asian As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion) signed by rep­re­sen­ta­tives from both sides. Yet, be­hind the sat­is­fac­tory, in­deed pride­wor­thy work of NCERT that In­dia can right­fully flaunt, lies the en­demic lack of qual­ity in text­books pro­duced by state boards. Some of the states have reprinted NCERT text­books, but most state boards make their own ar­range­ments. The qual­ity of sec­ondary and se­nior sec­ondary level text­books is poor in most state boards, but Pun­jab and West Ben­gal are among the worst cases. These are also the states which ex­pe­ri­enced the trauma of Par­ti­tion most di­rectly. One would have thought that they pri­ori­tise the study of Par­ti­tion, but the op­po­site is true. Par­ti­tion con­tin­ues to be used as the ter­mi­nal point of the his­tory syl­labus. Its por­trayal en­sures that Pak­istan is seen as an il­le­git­i­mate prod­uct of the free­dom strug­gle. Since his­tory comes to an end with Par­ti­tion and In­de­pen­dence, chil­dren will never again hear about Pak­istan from their teacher. Pak­istan will re­main like a silent, re­sented pres­ence on the mar­gins of the young, ed­u­cated mind.

In Pun­jab, Par­ti­tion is part of the syl­labus for Class XI. The ap­proved text­book, His­tory of In­dia by M. S. Sodhi, cov­ers the “ef­fects of Par­ti­tion” in a short para­graph of 15 melo­dra­matic lines. In this con­ven­tional text­book, there is no room for ex­plana­tory elab­o­ra­tion, vi­su­als or en­gag­ing ex­er­cises. It is squarely aimed at help­ing students get through a con­ven­tional ex­am­i­na­tion. The job left for students to do is to mem­o­rise them. The Class XII book by the same au­thor cov­ers the syl­labus of Pun­jab’s re­gional his­tory from 1469 to 1869. This book is stuffed with de­tails of the me­dieval pe­riod. At­tacks, con­quests, changes of regime and

killings are cov­ered with metic­u­lous de­tail. There is lit­tle room for anal­y­sis here. The syl­labus pro­vides no scope for go­ing be­yond the sec­ond An­gloSikh war. So there is no ques­tion of in­tro­duc­ing chil­dren to the chal­lenges that Pun­jab has faced in the con­text of mod­erni­sa­tion in eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial spheres. Nor is there any pos­si­bil­ity that the chil­dren of In­dian Pun­jab may learn some­thing, or at least feel cu­ri­ous, about the other Pun­jab. This is clearly not a goal of the state’s ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy. Nor is it a goal in Ben­gal where text­book qual­ity is equally poor and the vi­sion of syl­labus mak­ers just as nar­row as it is in Pun­jab.

These are, of course, no ex­cep­tions. Across the coun­try, most of the state boards have changed lit­tle over the last 50 years in terms of their ca­pac­ity to de­sign syl­labi, cre­ate or rec­om­mend text­books, and con­duct ex­am­i­na­tions. The rec­om­men­da­tions of the Am­rik Singh Com­mit­tee have gath­ered the prover­bial dust on of­fi­cial shelves. The an­nual con­fer­ence NCERT holds with state boards has not, ap­par­ently, led to any real in­ter­ac­tion or flow of in­no­va­tive ideas in cur­ricu­lum and text­book de­vel­op­ment. At the el­e­men­tary level, SCERT ( State Coun­cil of Ed­u­ca­tional Re­search and Train­ing) is sup­posed to look af­ter syl­labus- mak­ing and text­book pro­duc­tion in most states. It is also a frag­ile body, with un­sta­ble staff and lit­tle clout. Given these con­di­tions, the over­all ca­pac­ity for qual­ity in pro­duc­tion of text­books is quite poor. Schools af­fil­i­ated to the CBSE are obliged to use NCERT text­books ( at least af­ter Class VIII), and they serve the richer strata of so­ci­ety. Schools linked to state boards cater to the work­ing class and the ru­ral masses. This story is not ter­ri­bly dif­fer­ent from that of Pak­istan where pri­vate schools serv­ing the rich pre­scribe the rea­son­ably good text­books pub­lished by the Ox­ford Univer­sity Press while the masses are fed on ide­o­log­i­cal muck. In both coun­tries, the dom­i­nant classes have carved a neater niche for their own chil­dren and aban­doned the chil­dren of the masses to cope with an un­re­formed pro­vin­cial sys­tem.

If peace be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan is to be­come a goal of ed­u­ca­tional pol­icy, ex­po­nen­tially greater en­ergy, than what has been so far avail­able for re­form, will have to be de­ployed in both coun­tries. In In­dia, we are ahead of Pak­istan in ini­ti­at­ing cur­ric­u­lar re­forms at the na­tional level. Sus­tain­ing them at the state level is no easy task. It is not merely a ques­tion of not al­low­ing text­books to per­pet­u­ate stereo­types. Text­books that al­low chil­dren to think need teach­ers who are trained to en­cour­age free­dom of thought. Across both In­dia and Pak­istan, such teach­ers are in short sup­ply. In fact, teach­ing the young has been triv­i­alised as a pro­fes­sion over the re­cent decades in both coun­tries. In­no­va­tive syl­labi and text­books are merely the first step for ed­u­ca­tional re­form. Teacher ed­u­ca­tion and ex­am­i­na­tions are the next key sites of strug­gle. Ori­ent­ing teach­ers to­wards a ma­ture view of the past must be­come a pri­or­ity if re­sources are to be saved from prepa­ra­tion for war. But then, the tragic per­spec­tive that state text­books in In­dia continue to of­fer on the af­ter­math of the free­dom strug­gle will have to be re­vis­ited first. It in­ad­ver­tently nur­tures per­ma­nent prej­u­dice and anger to­wards our neigh­bour.



The au­thor is the for­mer di­rec­tor of

NCERT and an em­i­nent ed­u­ca­tion­ist

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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