(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 06 , 2008
Controversy over the Text Book In Kerala
M A BABY
“Jeevan Who Has No Religion” is the title of the controversial portion of the revised VIIth standard Social Science text book, now prescribed for study in the schools following the Kerala syllabus. Following is a verbatim translation of the little Malayalam story under the said title.
With the parents seated in the chairs in front of him, the headmaster began to fill up the application form for enrolling the new student:
“Son, what is your name?”
“Good … good name. Father's name?”
The headmaster looked up and addressed the parents:
“Which is the religion you want to enter against the boy in the register”?
“Nothing. You may write no religion”
The headmaster leaned back on his chair and asked a little reflectively:
“Supposing the child feels the need for a religion when he grows up?”
“Let him choose when he wants to”
The text has little revolutionary content. Inter religious marriages are not unknown in the state. Not many eyebrows are raised when such marriages occur. The neutral religious status of the child born out of inter religious wedlock is socially accepted. The individual's right to practice or not to practice a religion is guaranteed by the secular constitution of the country. As a matter of fact, the text under attack does not even discuss the possibility of the child growing into an irreligious person. It only asserts the right of the child to make informed choices on his religion. It only suggests a practical solution to a problem that is inherent in an inter caste marriage, which is promoted by the Indian State and accepted by and large by Kerala society. Yet the text is the focal point of a raging controversy in the state at present. The Congress and the BJP have joined hands with sections of the influential Christian and Muslim clerics and the leadership of the Hindu upper caste Nair Service Society against the Left Democratic Front Government over the issue. They have alleged that the text is intended to teach Atheism and Marxism, to glorify local struggles and belittle national movements. They have unleashed a violent aggressive agitation, vowing to continue the stir until the text book is withdrawn. The offer of the Government to constitute a committee of experts to look into the entire question and make necessary modifications in the text, if so required, has no takers among the ranks of the agitators. Defying all logic and common sense, they continue to indulge in acts of violence and vandalism, holding hartals, destroying public property and setting truckloads of text books on fire. It appears that an attempt is being made to revive the spirit of 1959 “Liberation Struggle”, a successful ploy by which the first progressive Government in the State under the leadership of Com. EMS was dismissed by the then Central Government.
This is evident from the fact that a concerted disinformation campaign is being launched by the Opposition against the educational reforms of the Left Democratic Government right from its inception. The first of these came with in a month of the Government assuming office. After supporting the Act to bring in social control over unaided professional institutions in the Assembly, the Opposition joined hands with commercial lobby to oppose it outside the house. After cooperating with the successful experiment conducted in Thiruvananthapuram District for holding single window admission to Government/ Aided institutions at the Plus Two level, the Opposition again held out the banner of revolt when it was extended this year to the entire State. The Single Window System would not only eliminate corruption in admission, but also save considerable energy and time for students. The approval of the scheme by the Hon. High Court of Kerala has caused much loss of face for the Opposition. With the spectre of Parliament election looming large in the horizon and the Congress facing the wrath of the people over price rise and nuclear imbroglio and UDF in the grip of internal squabbles, the text book row is a cleverly cooked up ruse to divert the people's attention. The attempt of the Congress is to hatch a grand alliance against the LDF by aligning with groups as diverse as extreme right wing BJP and extremist fringes on the Left.
But the strategy has back fired. The text book which the agitators seek to ban has received so much readership as no other text book has ever received before. It is being read, discussed and debated by the people at large. Its genesis is being traced back to the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), authored under the tutelage of the Congress lead UPA Government at the centre in which Muslim League is also a partner. The Kerala Curriculum Framework (KCF) was developed on the lines of NCF with grass roots level participation, setting a new model of curriculum development for the entire country. The very people who raise cudgels against the curriculum now, were themselves a part of the team that framed it. The text book was produced through team work, involving a large number of teachers who had gained their experience in text book writing during the previous UDF regime. The critical pedagogy that forms the back bone of the new curriculum was evolved as part of the National Curriculum Framework. The dialogic approach of the text, its activity oriented content, the student centred method of mediating knowledge, the status of the teacher as a facilitator in the classroom and that of the student as a joint explorer in the search for knowledge, the method of moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the concrete to the abstract, the importance given to local history along with national and global history in the text, the attention given to marginalized sections of society and their problems are all part of the new approach promoted by the NCF. The State Curriculum Committee, which examined and approved the textbooks including the Part I of the controversial VIIth Standard Social Sciences text, has leaders of two teachers' organizations associated with the Congress and Muslim League! One of them had in fact given certain modifications to Part II of the text, which is being printed for distribution very soon. However, due to obvious reasons, they now claim that they were not given opportunity to examine the content of the textbooks. The experts who framed the NCF are baffled by the hysteria that is unleashed by Opposition in the name of the text, especially in a state like Kerala with a history of progressive movements.
As a matter of fact, the controversy over the text has brought into sharp focus the story of the long engagement between democratic and reactionary forces over educational rights of the people within the State. The expansion of facilities and the egalitarian ethos in education that the state has achieved over the years is the creation of the work of missionaries, the enlightened rulers of the state and the progressive social and political reformers, who have worked together at different times in the history of the State. While the expansion of the educational facilities in the State have been brought about by the missionaries, the organizations of various communities and the rulers of the State during the pre and post independence periods, the large scale stress on egalitarian sharing of opportunities such as land reforms have been brought about by the intervention of progressive social and political movements. While the reactionary forces in the past were mainly interested in promoting communalism and religious sectarianism in education, the growing prospect of commercialization of education has added a new dimension to the existing contradictions. The communal, religious and commercial claims over education have now coalesced together, often tending to blur the distinctions between them. The sharp political polarization in the State has also given a decisive voice to reactionary elements who dabble in obscurantism and commercialism in education. The only way to break the stranglehold of such reactionary forces over the onward march of history is to take the majority of people belonging to all religious faiths into confidence in support of the democratic and pro-people programme of the LDF Government. The LDF Government is precisely engaged in such an attempt at present.