Reshma Ravishanker (Bengaluru)
Somewhat unusually, the Congress government in Karnataka (pop.69 million), which completed 100 days in office on August 27, is on fast-track towards fulfilling its education-related election promises. On August 21, deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar announced that as per its manifesto promise, the state government has discontinued implementation of the National Education Policy (2020) from the current academic year 2023-24 and started work on framing its own State Education Policy. Now, the state government has issued directions to constitute a Textbooks Revision Committee (TRC) to rewrite textbooks to wipe out the alleged hindutva propaganda of the previous BJP government in them.
On September 25, the state government appointed a new Textbooks Revision Committee comprising 37 education experts to revise textbooks prescribed for 78,424 state board-affiliated schools. The 37-member TRC headed by Dr. Manjunath Hegde, a retired professor of history at Rani Chennamma University, Belagavi, has been given three months to complete the revision of first and second language Kannada textbooks for classes I-X, Kannada textbooks for classes IX-X and social science textbooks for classes VI-X. They have to be ready for the academic year 2024-25.
It’s noteworthy that prior to appointment of the new TRC, the state’s education ministry had issued a circular dated June 17 revoking 18 changes introduced by its predecessor BJP government in Kannada and English-medium social sciences textbooks for classes VI-X children. The changes include removal of a chapter on RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) founder Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, and an essay authored by right-wing ideologue Chakravarti Sulibele. A letter written by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira Gandhi, and chapters on vedic culture, rise of new religions, human rights, women freedom fighters were inserted in their stead.
However, with the new academic year 2023-24 having already commenced on April 1, and textbooks printed and dispatched (with old content) to all government and aided schools statewide, Madhu Bangarappa, the newly inducted minister for school education and literacy, declared that the revised content will be printed and distributed as additional booklets. But four months on, schools are yet to receive these additional booklets.
“With schools not having received these additional booklets, school managements, teachers and students are in a state of confusion and driven to searching for textbook changes in media reports. It’s unfortunate that successive governments are using textbooks as weapons of politicisation to reflect their ideological biases. Now that we have a new TRC, we sincerely hope that the mandate of this committee is to upgrade the quality and content of textbooks, not merely to desaffronise them. Way back in 2015, the Union HRD ministry had pointed out that Karnataka state textbooks are age inappropriate and lack quality content. No government has so far made an effort to address this important recommendation,” says D. Shashi Kumar, general secretary, Associated Managements of Private Schools in Karnataka (KAMS) which has over 4,000 member schools statewide.
Unsurprisingly this ping pong revision of children’s textbooks is deplored by genuine academics who believe it is inimical to students’ teaching-learning continuity. “In the battle of ideologies of political parties, students suffer. Teachers begin teaching one textbook at the start of the academic year and soon, there is a revision, and they are asked to teach something else. That’s why teachers should not rely solely on textbooks but use other resources to achieve curricular goals. Unfortunately, this is not feasible in government schools where teachers are complacent and poorly trained. Therefore, state governments have a great responsibility to desist from constantly meddling with textbooks content. We hope the new TRC will focus on ensuring that government school children have access to best quality texts,” says Prof. A.S. Seetharamu, former professor of education, Institute of Social & Economic Change, Bengaluru.
This might be wishful thinking. Because the new TRC has been given a mere three months to revise textbooks of four grades. Moreover the word is that the top priority of the TRC is to cleanse next year’s textbooks of hindutva ideology and content of the ousted BJP government.