Save Our Children: Analysis of History books studied through ICSE syllabus for schools

During the budget session of Parliament in Feb 2016, HRD minister Smriti Irani raised objections over contents of a few history textbooks used by students from ICSE and CBSE schools.  Just out of curiosity I decided to look into the history syllabus of ICSE board and ponder on the history content taught to students at school level.

Credibility of the ICSE Board:

To analyze the syllabus of ICSE initially I got textbooks of Class V, VII, VIII and IX from a student who studies in a school following ICSE syllabus. Soon I realized that there is no one publication followed for the syllabus. So, I referred to the ICSE website to find out more about the syllabus. ICSE is an autonomous organization and it seems, it is not answerable to the department of school education which comes under HRD ministry. To my surprise I did not find anything under the syllabus tab. Even I did not find names of committee members who would be involved in the setting up the syllabus. I tried to search about publishing of textbooks that followed ICSE syllabus but could not find anything either. Again I went back to the textbooks I had and read the preface to find that ICSE follows the syllabus of the Inter-state Board for Anglo-Indian Education, ISBAIE which is also an autonomous organization founded in 1935. It seems it was set up for providing same curriculum in Europe, Eurasia, and Anglo-India in which British were ruling and for providing education to children of the British employees working in that region and or may be providing foundational education to create civil servants for British government. There is no list of committee members given in the website of ISBAIE who is responsible for setting up the syllabus. Hence, it is still unclear who is responsible for the ICSE syllabus followed by hundreds of schools all over India and who is answerable for the complaints rose regarding the content of the textbooks.

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If parents want to raise their voices against the faulty content in the textbooks, there is nobody to whom they can complain about it. Even if they complain, at least from what I observed it will not be of any use because there is no committee who can take responsibility of the textbooks published. So it will be easier for them to get away with the faulty content.

Methodology Followed and Motivation for the Analysis:

I am not a historian by training but have background of educational research and scholarship to undertake such a task. To get an idea of what is there inside the text it is enough to know the topics listed in the content. So, I followed the index and wherever needed I read the textual details inside. In order to analyze the ICSE syllabus I decided to read total 12 textbooks from 6 different publishers for the grades III to X. I also used my broader knowledge and awareness about the history and analyzed the content keeping in mind the basic objectives of teaching history. It is always important to know whether the objectives are getting fulfilled by the text prescribed for the study. This activity is undertaken with self motivation and not funded by anybody. It is not politically motivated but based on sheer concern about what students are being taught as history. Another motivation is to bring this matter to the attention of parents, teachers, students and the department of school education under the HRD ministry so that some action could be taken to correct it.

Point One – Credibility of Authors and Publishers:

For checking authenticity of the content written in the textbooks it is important to know the credentials of the authors and selection criteria for authors by publishers to write these textbooks. For instance, in her speech in the Parliamentary session Smriti Irani mentioned name of the author of a class IV history textbook of ICSE board as Teesta Setalwad. The book contains information about Kashmir being illegally occupied by India, riots of Hindu-Muslims in various parts of India, riots between Hindus and Christians in Kerala. The content itself is inappropriate for class IV and providing wrong information about Kashmir. Also, Teesta Setlwad’s credentials are questionable as she is out on bail for making fraud in the money she received in the name of aid for Gujarat riot victims and the money has never reached to the victims. Why students are being forced to learn from a textbook written by a fraud and criminal background person?

Regarding the number of publishing companies, I enquired with the book seller in Pune and he told me that there are 6 to 7 publishers whose ICSE syllabus textbooks they sell. It might be that shop’s record and there can be many more publishers whose textbooks are sold all over India. Some publishers provide names and credentials of the authors in the textbooks. Some give just names and no authentic credentials and some do not provide names of authors at all forget about credentials.

The criteria for selecting the authors for the textbooks remain unclear as there are authors who do not have right credentials to write a textbook. For instance, for class VII history textbook one author has qualification as MA in history and Post graduation in Journalism and Mass communication. If we observe the standard practice by NCERT and SCERTs, there are committees for creating syllabus and writing textbooks whose credentials are minimum PhD in that subject and relevant teaching experience. How come a journalist can write a history textbook of class VII? Most of the authors have MA (history), BEd with work experience as Principal or Vice-Principal of some ICSE school in the past. For writing textbooks in lower grades like class 3 to 5 this qualification is fine.

But for higher grades from 6th to 10th the author need to have research background along with the relevant teaching experience. Why I am giving emphasis on author being a PhD and having research background and relevant teaching experience? It is because that person can be at least expected to check the correctness of the history (based on the latest research in history and archeology) being written or taught in the textbooks for years and years. The scenario on this front (i.e. providing accurate account of history) is not very satisfactory.

Point Two – Credibility of the Content:

All the history textbooks refer to Indus Valley civilization as the beginning of ancient Indian history and Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) as a base. They say that Vedic culture came with Aryans who invaded India and fought with indigenous Dravidian people. It has been more than two decades that AIT has been refused by historians (both Indian and western) based on Archeological evidences found. It also accepts that Vedic civilization as the oldest civilization on earth even thousands of years before other civilizations in the world and Vedas as oldest texts with Sanskrit as the oldest language. Please refer to the research papers written by Indian and foreign scholars regarding refusing AIT. Why any of these writers/authors did not bother to include the revised history in the textbooks? Instead they continued with the false history. Is it because they were unaware or incompetent to know this or it was deliberate attempt to teach false history?

The school or teachers of that school to be precise decide which textbook they prefer for their students to study and hence there is no commonality of the text among schools in the same region. The advantage of setting up one committee for forming curriculum and writing textbooks is that the contents remain connected to each other and the unnecessary repetition gets avoided. So, with this multiple publishing company system even students in the same region study different content of the history in the same grade.

Point Three – Irrelevant Content:

The textbook for class III published by Frank Educational Aids contains world ancient history. It begins with Indus valley civilization and goes on to include world civilizations like Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, and Chinese. It also includes the world emperors such as Julius and Augustus Caesar, Alexander, Gautam Budhha and Budhhism, and King Ashoka. Why there is a need to teach history of the world civilizations and world emperors to class III students? These little ones need to know the history of the region they are living in.

The textbook of class V published by Madhuban publication has taken a running review of Indian history beginning from Indus valley civilization and ending at India getting freedom. If the same content would be taught in higher classes then why do we need to repeat the same in lower classes with wrong, scanty information? Moreover, the book seems to be emphasizing more on exam oriented content (i.e. preparing students for objective questions like fill in the blanks, math the following and answer in one word) instead of creating interest in the history. The class V textbook published by Frank Educational Aids, have some different content but that raises new set of questions. For instance, the first part of the textbook begins with Great Leaders of the World that includes George Washington, Nepoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Vladimir Lenin, Mao-Tse-tung, Nelson Mandela, M K Gandhi. I fail to understand why the life of world leaders is relevant to a class V child than to know about great Indian leaders and historical figures?

Point Four – Distortion of Glorious Indian History:

In all the history books the common scenario is that Indian history is projected maximum as history of slavery, cowards and defeat. Class V history book published by Madhuban Publishing begins with the wrong ancient history of India i.e. Before Indus valley civilization; there was no real civilization as such in India. People were living in caves and there was no writing. People use to hunt and draw pictures on the wall. After Aryans invaded they developed Vedic civilization etc. The information about Indian culture, scriptures is also given in a scanty manner. The class VI history textbook published by Madhuban Publications also repeats the wrong history of ancient India i.e. Stone Age, Iron Age and all river valley civilizations and it ends with a small chapter on Cholas, Mauryas.

Some of the class VII textbooks have avoided history of Hindu kingdoms like Rajaputas, Cholas, Mauryas, Guptas, Vijayanagara and Marathas. Some of the books have given some information but that is very disconnected. The major headings of the chapters from class VII, Beena publications textbooks regarding Indian history are as follows: The Advent of Islam, The Turkish Invasion, Delhi Sultnate, The Khilji Dynasty, Tughluq and Lodhi Dynasties, The Vijayanagar and the Bahamani Kingdoms, Advent of Mughals, Akbar the Great, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb and Shivaji. If we go into the details of these headings one can see some positive information about Vijayanagar Kingdom and partly about Shivaji.

The class VIII history textbook published by Frank Educational Aids has following chapter headings: Decline of Mughals; Rise of Regional Powers; Anglo-French Rivalry in Carnatic; Bengal: Foundations of the British Empire; Expansion of British Rule in Southern, Central and Western India; Expansion of British Rule in Northern India; Impact of British Policies on India; The Indian Renaissance; The Revolt of 1857; Rise of Indian Nationalism; Struggle for Indian Freedom (1919-1947). If anybody who does not have any idea about real Indian history cannot really develop any informative positive opinion about Indian history after reading these textbooks.

Instead the person will develop an opinion that Indian history means Mughal history and Mughals brought early development, culture to India. Meanwhile small Hindu kings fought with Mughals but could not win. Then came British people and gave modern developments and civilization, education to Indians. Indian National Congress raised nationalism among Indians and after the freedom struggle by means of Quit India movement and satyagraha by Gandhi, India got freedom. In some other publishing textbooks similar scenario can be seen with some minimal difference here and there. But most of the tone is similar i.e. glorification of Mughal invaders and British colonialism. Why there is no account given regarding the revolutionary Indian freedom struggle fought by many Indians and laid their lives for the cause?

British people are ashamed of their colonial history and they did not want questions raised in their children’s minds and so they do not teach them colonial history of British. They teach only the history that is convenient to them. There is an African pro-verb, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter”. Can we learn anything from this? We are still teaching the history of India which was written by British people as per their own convenience. Why aren’t we writing our own history and teach it our students? How one can develop patriotism by reading such a scanty, selective, distorted history of India?

Point Five – Disconnected Nature of the Content Presented:

When textbooks are written at school level the content must be presented with some logic, so that it can be taught effectively. In these history textbooks, as I have mentioned above, different publications are prescribed and used by different schools for different classes. Sometimes the content in one class and the previous class gets overlapped. Some publications remove some parts of the content totally and avoid that information. So, when the history is actually taught to students its nature becomes disconnected. Repetitive nature of the content in consecutive classes would make students dislike the subject. Removal of some content would keep students away from the historical accounts.

For instance: As discussed earlier there is no logical connection or coherence in the history content of class III to class V. Moreover, it ranges from world history, ancient Indian history, modern Indian history and world leaders, reformers, social workers, world cultures, civilizations, arts etc. It is like more content is being squeezed in with no focus on anything. Same thing can be observed in class VI textbook by Beena Publications.  It does talk about Mauryas, Cholas, Guptas but do not tell about Ahom Kingdom in Assam, Kings in Kashmir, no historical account of Maharana Pratap.

Class IV textbook published by Frank Educational Aids begins with information about founders of different religions. It includes only Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad and Guru Govind Singh. Why the founders of other religions such as Judaism, Zorastrian, Jainism, Buddhism are not included? Hinduism does not have any founder but then why not provide the same information about Hinduism?

The information about Mughals looting and converting local Indians who were following Hinduism and Budhhism is absent from these history textbooks. There is no information about how great ancient Indian universities Nalanda and Taxila were destroyed by Mughals. No account of how Muslim invaders and attackers have broken Hindu temples and built their mosques on the demolished structures. Some may argue that they do not want to develop discomfort among Muslim students while learning this kind of history. Why they should feel uncomfortable for the reality? True history can be taught without developing hatred among students.

If they think so much about Muslims and Christians why don’t they think about majority Hindus when they highlight caste system and oppression of Dalits by Upper casts? The same thing can be argued. Majority Brahmins or even upper cast do not really follow cast systems, then why to project it? Oh yes, it was a true history and still in India in some parts such things do happen. Agreed, but then innocent tribal people, poor and even educated Hindu people get lured into converting to Christianity and Islam in today’s India. Many terrorist activities in the name of Islam are continued all over the world. Then why selective, distorted and disconnected history, history that is convenient for some groups gets included in the syllabus? No doubt, students develop no interest in history and form wrong opinion about the country’s history. With such history how patriotism can be developed among students?

Point Six – Imbalance in the content:

There is imbalance in the account of world history and Indian history provided in these textbooks. As discussed earlier these books are full of disconnected, distorted and scanty Indian history and are filled with more detailed account of world history such as European, American and French history along with art, culture, religions. Another imbalance is with content of history and civics. In a syllabus some marks are allotted to history content and some for civics. Class IX textbook published by Morning Star publications include account of WWI, WWII and formation of UN. However, class IX and X textbooks published by Ratna Sagar publications do revision of the same history given in previous classes and do not have world wars at all. These books focus more on Civics than on history. How come textbooks with such imbalance in the content can be accepted and prescribed as textbooks?

Conclusion:

At this point my mind is full of questions: If parents are ready to pay more fees for their children’s education, why don’t they pay attention to what exactly is taught to their children? How it is affecting the mentality of these children? If parents of the students are aware of these conditions then what action they are taking against it? Also, Why does NCERT not undertake small research projects of analysis of textbooks of various boards after every few years or so?

These issues have long term effects on students and hence our country, as students is future of India. Now India is the youngest country in the world. If the young minds are corrupted then how will India not get affected? Recently I came across an article regarding problems in history textbooks of the syllabus of California State in the US. The parents, students and people from some local Hindu organizations raised their voices in a systematic manner.

According to them Hinduism was depicted wrongly and the information about India was insufficient and wrong. Parents, students from the Hindu community spoke out about all this in front of a committee from California Educational Board in a meeting and put forward the suggestions in a democratic way.

It is remarkable that how these parents are aware about what is taught to their kids and all were concerned about the taught content and its impact on the students and not about the marks. We do not have such kind of system to raise the voices. Parents, students and teachers are the major stake holders in this case. Can we develop some kind of formal or informal system or a powerful group of parents who can collaborate with academicians, historians on their level and raise the voices to department of school education of the HRD ministry? What steps can be taken to make the workings of ICSE more transparent?

 

By Dr Aparna Lalingkar, Pune

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