Key deletions in just published NCERT textbooks awaken Indian media

Manufacturing history and the destruction of liberal education

NCERT censorship of textbooks 2023
The Indian Express 5 April 2023 Photo IPP

The Indian Express on 5 April 2023 took the lead in condemning the BJP government’s deletions of references to the Gujarat riots of 2022 in the just published ‘rationalized’ NCERT social science textbooks. Apparently all the NCERT textbooks from class 6 to 12 have been purged of all references to the Gujarat riots.

The front page article by Ritika Chopra also pointed to the deletion of the “reference to Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as ‘a Brahmin from Pune’ and ‘the editor an extremist Hindu newspaper who had denounced Gandhiji as “an appeaser of Muslims,’” from the political science textbook for class 12 titled Politics in India Since Independence. The daily also censored its own frontpage headline borrowed from the same textbook by crossing it out.

When Chopra asked NCERT director Dr DP Sakhlani why the several such changes were not spelled out in the government institution’s ‘rationalization’ document issue in June 2022, but directly introduced into the printed books for the 2023-24 academic year, he insisted that no new new changes have been introduced. However his colleague and head of the NCERT’s Central Institute of Educational Technology is quoted in the same article as saying, “It is possible some bits may have been left out due to oversight but no new changes have been made this year. This all happened last year.”

Since the Indian Express article of 5 April 2023, various publications have taken up the issue but apart from the detailed 1000 word article starting on the front page, it has continued to both widen and deepen the story. On 7 April 2023 R Mahalakshmi wrote an article in the same paper titlled, “History textbook deletions: Why NCERT argument that it is trying to reduce pressure on students is weak.”

Mahlakshmi wrote, “The excuse that the NCERT has given for the so-called rationalisation of content — the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant pressure on students — is no longer relevant. Then why go ahead with the axing of chapters or parts of chapters? The answer lies in the specifics of what has been removed from the textbooks, and quite obviously, the history textbooks provide the best example. Many of us had raised a red flag last year when the issue came to light. It was also pointed out by educationists that piecemeal rationalisation is actually detrimental to the overall knowledge being imparted to students.

This year, according to the NCERT Director Dinesh Prasad Saklani, chapters on the Mughals have not been dropped, and it is a lie to talk of these deletions. He reportedly said that ‘expert committees examined the books from standards 6-12.’ Contradicting his earlier point, he states, ‘They recommended that if this chapter is dropped, it won’t affect the knowledge of the children and an unnecessary burden can be removed…The debate is unnecessary.’ Quite clearly, there is no lie involved in the reporting of the deletions and equally clearly, there is an obfuscation of the facts regarding deletions.

“The rationale for the dropping of the various chapters is the recommendation of an expert committee on the grounds that these deletions would not affect the knowledge of children and an unnecessary burden would be removed. The chapters concerned, as reported, are as follows: from Class 11, the book, Themes in World History, ‘Central Islamic Lands’ (Theme 4), ‘Confrontation of Cultures’ (Theme 8), and ‘The Industrial Revolution’ (Theme 9); from the Class 12 book, Themes of Indian History-Part II, ‘Kings and Chronicles’; the ‘Mughal Courts’ (C. 16th and 17th centuries) (Theme 9). One of the arguments posited is also that these have been covered in earlier years.

“Even a cursory look at the chapters deleted shows that they bring a different level of knowledge and understanding to the students, even if the broad period or theme was covered in early years, in different textbooks. And anyway, going by this rationalisation, chapters on Harappa or other aspects could very easily have been dropped. That they were not, indicates that it is not a simple case of reducing the load. This is also a spurious argument because the level of discussion varies in textbooks for different classes, and to not discuss the development of the state in ancient India or the anti-colonial freedom struggles in India because this may have been covered earlier doesn’t make sense. By that standard, courses at the Masters level in universities would be shorn of much of their content as students may have covered themes/topics in their under-graduation!”

Our view

As we have written earlier there will be no demographic dividend for India without investment in education. While the expenditure in public education, a constitutional right is already abysmal at 1.5% of GDP it is undergoing the illiberal setback of censored ‘rationalized’ content by the government. Public education from class 0 to 12 in India is already far behind that of Bangladesh which distributes two and half times the number of textbooks per child in its government schools, as India does according to a recent IppStar study.

It seems that the government is keen to further bankrupt public education by not realizing that brainwashing will not lead to the creativity or innovation the country requires from its young people. It seems determined to destroy government education and push more segments of the population to private schools and privately published textbooks as well.

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