NCERT textbook controversy: Much ado about nothing - Hindustan Times
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NCERT textbook controversy: Much ado about nothing

Apr 13, 2023 07:21 PM IST

India is not alone when it comes to controversies over revisions of textbooks; such things happen all over the world

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)’s decision to rationalise history, political science and sociology school textbooks for the 2023-24 academic year has led to a controversy. Even Samajwadi Party boss Akhilesh Yadav has questioned the decision to drop some poets of Uttar Pradesh from Hindi textbooks.

India is not alone when it comes to controversies over revisions of textbooks; such things happens all over the world (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
India is not alone when it comes to controversies over revisions of textbooks; such things happens all over the world (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Responding to criticism, NCERT said the rationalisation of textbooks was needed to reduce load of students after the Covid-19 academic disruption, remove similar content in other subject areas in the same class, or similar content in the lower or higher classes on the same subject. NCERT director Dinesh Prasad Saklani said the changes were made and incorporated last year on the recommendations of subject experts and not for any political considerations, but he admitted that the details of the excluded portions may have, by oversight, not been mentioned in a list of rationalised topics released last June.

“NCERT doesn’t take decisions on its own. These topics were rationalised last year on recommendations of the subject expert panel. One should not see that through the political prism. In this case, only a few lines have been removed. The important and relevant facts about Mahatma Gandhi are still there in the textbook. It is very much there that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse,” Saklani said.

India is not alone when it comes to controversies over revisions of textbooks; such things happen all over the world, and therefore, the present controversy in India must not be given too much importance. In 2019, there was a big controversy in Hungary about the portrayal of migrants in school history textbooks. At present, Europe and its nations are facing a dilemma regarding what to teach in history textbooks, which could help develop a sense of unity among all European Union nations.

In India, NCERT and other policy institutions aim to evolve educational pedagogies, which can bring about harmony and peace in society. To facilitate peace and a non-violent society, we should try to evolve a national narrative through education, similar to what European countries are doing.

Then why do we see so many controversies around the making of school textbooks in India?

When political groups view education through ideological lenses, it becomes a political issue and leads to controversies, which are then used by politicians for their electoral and political gains.

We are heading towards the 2024 elections, and many political groups are looking for new political issues for electoral mobilisations. While writing this piece, I remember one of the conversations with a youth from Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh. He said: “He Bhagwan, kuchh to politics se bacha lo (Oh god, please save at least something from politics )”.

As the NCERT controversy shows, politics has indeed touched all aspects of life.

Badri Narayan is director, G B Pant Social Science Institute

The views expressed are personal

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