AN article in The Guardian focuses on a matter that our academics have been trying to highlight for at least a decade. It has been observed that the texts used in state-run schools foster religious extremism in a less blatant but more ubiquitous way than the infamous madressahs. By propagating concepts such as jihad, the inferiority of non-Muslims, India's ingrained enmity with Pakistan, etc., the textbook board publications used by all government schools promote a mindset that is bigoted and obscurantist. Since there are more children studying in these schools than in madressahs the damage done is greater. A lot of research has been conducted on the contents of textbooks by teachers and sociologists who have compiled voluminous reports to persuade the education authorities to take corrective measures. Thanks to their efforts the dangerous implications of having such books in the school curricula are now being recognised.
But the process of change is not easy to initiate and implement when obscurantist forces are so firmly entrenched in every walk of life, especially in the education sector. In 2004 when an attempt was made to slightly modify a biology textbook that contained a Quranic verse on jihad, it backfired leading to the resignation of the education minister Zubeida Jalal. Once again, the government has announced that all textbooks are being revised to purge them of inflammatory material. When the changes will be made is anyone's guess. The education policy, which should normally set the guidelines on curricula development and textbook policy, has been put on the back burner.
The fact is that the minds of generations of schoolchildren are being perverted by our public school system. It is not just the textbooks that are preaching hatred, violence and intolerance. The teachers who are the products of this system can teach no better. With a few noble exceptions, they make their students swallow hook, line and sinker what the books say without even attempting to moderate the ideas conveyed. Being disinterested in their work, most teachers do not inspire their students with knowledge acquired from other sources. That makes the textbooks all-important especially when the pedagogy in our schools does not seek to inculcate creativity and curiosity in the child or to encourage him to ask questions and do some research in the quest of knowledge. One can only hope that the exercise to revise textbooks is expedited and private textbook publishers are allowed to enter the field if they can deliver.