The Social Science textbook for the Seventh Standard (State Syllabus) has been in the eye of a storm for over a month now. The Christian and Muslim communities, the Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) and even the BJP have made an issue of it. The accusation is that the textbook promotes atheism, communism and hatred against religions.
Much of the criticisms against the textbook (on religious grounds) are exaggerated. The issue is being hyped up by the Opposition with an eye on the coming Parliament elections, as the fight in the State would be between the CPI (M) led Left Democratic Front and Congress led United Democratic Front.
A lot of the criticism was centered on a lesson that presented a conversation between parent and headmaster of a school at the time of admission of their ward. The father asks the headmaster not to record his religion as his was a mixed marriage. The lesson emphases that the boy can chose a religion, if needed, when he grows up. There is nothing offending about this lesson. It could even be said to be in tune with the secular character of the country’s Constitution.
However, the first lesson is in campaign mode, highlighting historic wrongs against the peasants and lower castes. The communist parties take the credit for the transformation that had been brought about in removing untouchability, feudalism and associated evils. Though the book also discusses freedom struggle, emphasis is on those who fought violently for the country s freedom. In this process, Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent agitations did not get adequate emphasis. Jawaharlal Nehru gets better attention possibly because of his socialist leanings.
The graphic narration of the practices associated with untouchability would embarrass Hindus more than Christians and Muslims. But it is the latter who are in the forefront of the agitation against the textbook. This has something to do with the strained relations between the communities and the Government over government’s efforts to regulate admissions and fee structure in self-financing colleges.
The basic problem with the subject dealt with by the textbook is that it is recent history. It is debatable whether current history should be taught in the seventh standard. It is a must that students should know about untouchability and other evils that existed in the near past. (Many in the new generation think that reservation is unjust because they do not know about what had happened in the past.) But imparting of recent history could perhaps wait up to the higher secondary level, especially when class level discussions and conclusions are emphasised. Teacher’s skill as well as his prejudices can play positive and negative roles when lessons are interpreted. It is better not to leave much to subjective interpretation of upper primary teachers who are not scholars.
There is little doubt that the standard of the textbook is poor. There are several mistakes too. Its English version for the English medium classes is full of wrong usages, spelling mistakes and errors.