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Review: What did the standing committee recommend in its report on School Textbook reforms?

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The Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth, and Sports (Chaired by Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe) submitted its Report on the ‘Reforms in Content and Design of School Text Books’ on 30 November 2021. Here is a look at the key observations and recommendations of the Committee. 

School textbooks are a primary pedagogical tool available for the impartation of education through the multitude of diversity that defines our country. The development of quality textbooks, including both printed and electronic textbooks (e-textbooks) become most important. At its onset, the Standing Committee Report recognises that changing employment landscape and global ecosystem necessitates a shift in the orientation/purpose of education from being totally content driven to being the vehicle for enhancement of critical thinking and problem-solving ability of learners together with encouraging creativity.

The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) is the basis for the writing and development of textbooks in India. The Standing Committee Report comes at a time when the new NCF is going to be revised consequent to the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020

The Committee heard the views of the representatives of the Department of School Education and Literacy, CBSE, NCERT and various organizations and experts, as well as the larger public. Approximately 20,000 representations were received from experts, individuals and organizations on the subject pointing to discrepancies/omissions in the school textbooks.

Emphasis on integrating audio-visual means and prioritizing foundational skills

The Committee emphasises on the pressing need to develop high-quality textbooks and effective teaching methods. Thus, it recommends that mandatory standards related to textbook content, graphics and layout, supplementary materials, and pedagogical approaches should be developed, for printed as well as digital textbooks.

In the same vein, the Committee identifies the need to have more child-friendly textbooks, through enhanced use of pictures, graphics, QR codes, and other audio-visual materials. The Committee recommends that children should be taught through enhanced use of games, plays, dramas, workshops, visits to places of historical importance, museums, etc. as such approaches will ignite their inquisitiveness and analytical abilities. The Committee recommendations are in sync with NEP 2020’s vision that “learning Should be holistic, integrated, enjoyable, and engaging”.

The emphasis on holistic education and co-curricular learning can also be found in previous reports by the Quality Council of India, where it has been highlighted that such approaches will further curriculum reform and will also help develop more effective operational models for content delivery and learning.

The prioritization of the development of foundational skills amongst primary students is required by the NEP 2020 and therefore necessitates the use of information technology and digital devices. The Committee recommends that digital content should be created and disseminated using satellite technology.

The Committee opines that the introduction of modern technologies/ methodologies for the dissemination of information as part of teaching strategies should be undertaken preferably after enabling the possibility of the same uniformly in every part of the country. Schools in remote corners of the country should be suitably equipped for the same.

The India Report: Digital Education 2020 provides a comprehensive compendium of digital/online/on-air education initiatives across different states across various levels of education, including school education. The current status of their implementation and their scope can be understood from this report. In the context of COVID-19 lockdown and school closure, the Student Learning enhancement Guidelines 2020 present useful information from an online survey conducted by CBSE, KVS and NVS to highlight the challenges faced by students in digital/online learning, areas of engagement and improvements, and recommendations on tackling the digital divide.

The committee takes note of Maharashtra’s initiative to lighten school bags; makes case for information on drug addiction

The Committee considers the initiative of Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production & Curriculum Research known as ‘Ekatmik Pathya Pustak’ conceived in 2018-19 to lighten the school bag. The Maharashtra State Bureau created quarter-specific integrated material for Marathi, English, Mathematics and ‘Play, Do, Learn’ for Class I students into a single book.

The Committee recommends that a similar approach may be adopted by other states. Such initiative will be aligned to the School Bag Policy of New Education Policy (NEP), 2020 as laid out in Section 4.33.

In terms of drug use and addiction, the Committee noted that this issue cuts across the class divide and has adverse effects on the socio-economic structure of the country. It recommended that textbooks should highlight the ill effects of such addiction adequately and suitably highlighted in strong words, to caution the impressionable young minds. Additionally, the Committee also suggests that textbooks can contain separate elements spreading awareness against internet addiction and other aspects harmful to society. 

Committee roots for better representation of history, local heroes, and regional diversity and unity

Various presentations and stakeholders involved in the consultation process pointed out the unequal representation of various periods and dynasties in the history textbooks. The Committee observes that NCERT should take a relook at the guidelines for the writing of the history textbooks so that equal weightage and importance is given to the various eras, periods, and events in the history textbooks. Similarly, it was observed that school textbooks do not give adequate coverage to some of the great Indian empires like that of Vikramaditya, Cholas, Chalukyas, Vijaynagar, Gondwana, or that of Travancore and Ahoms of North-Eastern region, whose contributions in the expansion of India’s standing on the world stage cannot be ignored.

The Committee observed that our textbooks should highlight the lives of hitherto unknown men and women from different states and districts who have positively influenced our national history, honour, and one-ness. This would require content production teams to dig deeper into local sources of knowledge, including oral ones, and identify linkages between the local and the national.

Emphasis was also laid on providing equal representation to the North-East Indian States and their history. It was suggested that developmental models and economic policies should have sections talking about the complex realities and demographics of the North-East along with the history of civilizations and tribal communities of the North-eastern region.

Emphasis on revamping the representation of women

The Committee observes that generally, Women are underrepresented in school textbooks, many a times shown through images in traditional and voluntary roles, leading to the formation of gender stereotypes in the impressionistic minds of students. The Committee notes that a thorough analysis from the viewpoint of gender bias and stereotypes should be undertaken by NCERT, and efforts are made to make content portrayal and visual depiction gender inclusive.

The textbooks should have a greater portrayal of women in new and emerging professions, as well as the significant role played by women in the freedom movement and in various other fields. This will help in instilling self-esteem and self-confidence among all, particularly girls. Also, while examining the textbooks, other issues like environment sensitivity, human values, issues of children with special needs, etc should also be looked up for adequate inclusion.

The Committee is of the view that there should be an appropriate portrayal of women heroes like Rani Laxmi Bai, Zalkari Bai, Chand Bibi, etc vis-a-vis their male counterparts. The Committee observes that the women heroes from different regions and eras should be given equal weightage highlighting their contributions in the history textbooks.

This gender-sensitive perspective on analysing the representation of women in textbooks is unique and does not fully find a place in the NEP 2020 or previous educational policies/reforms. However, values of gender equality and its inclusion in the curriculum can be observed in the NEP 2020 document.

Attention towards ancient texts and regional Indian languages 

The Committee recommends that NCERT and SCERT should incorporate the ancient wisdom, knowledge and teachings about life and society from Vedas and other great Indian texts/ books in the school curriculum. Educational methodologies adopted in ancient Universities like Nalanda, Vikramshila and Takshila should be studied and suitably modified to serve as a model reference. The committee recommends that the contributions of ancient India in the fields of Philosophy, Science, Mathematics, Medicine, Ayurveda, Epistemology, Natural sciences, Politics, Economy, Ethics, Linguistics, Arts, etc may also be included in the textbooks. The traditional Indian knowledge systems should be linked with modern science and presented in the contemporary context in NCERT textbooks.

The Committee also observes that there is no uniformity in the coverage of the development of different Indian regional languages and scripts in the NCERT history textbook. For example, languages like Punjabi, with the Gurmukhi script, and Tamil, the first classical Indian language, do not find weightage commensurate to their importance. The journey of such languages should find a place in the context of education on the development of regional cultures.

The Committee mentions that the great Tamil literary treatise Thirukural by Thiruvalluvar, considered one of the best works on ethics and morality, is one of the varied such examples from regional literature which should get incorporated in the textbooks.

Indian History Congress expressed dissent against discontinued textbooks and arguments on unhistorical facts

The Indian History Congress (IHC) in their submission to the Committee stated that the school textbooks written for the NCERT by some of the tallest scholars in the country, like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra and Bipan Chandra were removed, and in their place books with a “clear sectarian, majoritarian bias” were introduced in 2002.

The IHC further stated that arguments about the presentation of ‘unhistorical facts’ are completely incorrect. This is the backdrop of various stakeholders/representations claiming that there are inaccurate factual distortions about Vedic tradition, incompatibility of certain facts with constitutional ideals and values in the school textbooks.

The IHC argued that the column on primary sources clearly indicates that throughout the books, an attempt has been made to base the presentation of history on texts, epigraphic records, chronicles, archival material, and all pertinent sources necessary for the reconstruction of history. Furthermore, the IHC held that there is an adequate discussion of over 120 national heroes available in the existing textbooks and there is no deliberate neglect that may be imputed. There is ample representation of different periods of history and historical developments within the broad chronological periods of ancient, medieval, and modern history.

School textbooks to reflect constitutional values, “unity in diversity” of India

The Committee maintains that the textbooks should instill a commitment to values enshrined in the constitution and should further promote national integration and unity.

The Committee notes that the current textbooks have not undergone any study to evaluate the psychological impact related to course material/curriculum. The Committee noted the submissions made by the Director of NCERT that different departments of NCERT would conduct small studies on different aspects to evaluate the textbooks, taking feedback from stakeholders including students.

The Committee observes that modifications suggested updating the syllabus/ topics in NCERT books related to all the subjects should also be adopted by SCERT and the same should be reflected in their textbooks too and local/vernacular languages should be used for proper dissemination of information in the respective mother tongue.

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