Published: 06th June 2022
Karnataka's textbook revision controversy: Writers, activists and educationists weigh in
Experts and progressive thinkers, on their part, have pointed out that if the revision was indeed required, then it should have been first done for core subjects
Revision of school textbooks, under the supervision of the state government-constituted Textbook Revision Committee, headed by Rohith Chakrathirtha, has politicised school education in an unprecedented manner.
While the opposition blames the state government for the revision being ideologically driven, the latter defends its line, saying it was done with a “corrective approach” in mind. It has created a huge uproar across the state. While one section justifies the revision in support of the government, several progressive thinkers, litterateurs and seers of prominent mutts are opposing the decision to revise school textbooks.
Among a total of 534 chapters in Kannada and Social Science subjects from Classes I to X of the state syllabus, the Chakrathirtha-headed committee (which now stands dissolved) revised 83, which the state government subsequently approved.
While Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Friday, June 3, evening announced that they were open to re-revision of textbooks, despite almost 80 per cent being printed and about 66 per cent distributed among schools across Karnataka, the very idea of the need for revising school textbooks — especially Kannada and Social Science — is being questioned.
As things stand now, Primary & Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh has announced that re-revision will be considered, after a few pontiffs raised objections to the content on 12th-century social reformer Basavanna in Class IX textbooks. Seers of several Lingayat mutts in the region — including Chidananda Swamiji of Hosa Mutt — had said the committee was assigned to carry out the agenda set by the education minister and those with vested interests to defame the social reforms of Basavanna.
Kudalasangama Panchamasali Peeta pontiff Basava Jaya Mruthyunjaya Swami expressed disappointment at the state government for vilifying Basavanna. “I never imagined that this would happen to Lord Basavanna when a Lingayat leader, Basavaraj Bommai, is at the helm. It is a big disappointment to the entire Lingayat community.”
Wary of implications, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai sought a report on textbook revision from Nagesh, which was submitted on Friday evening. Bommai said they were open to re-revising content on Basavanna objected to by the seers. Minister Nagesh said this would not require printing to be halted, nor reprinting of textbooks, considering that a majority have already been printed and distributed. Instead, a booklet with re-revised format would be introduced with the newly revised textbooks, to ensure there are no delays in academic schedules.
As per the Department of Public Instruction, Karnataka has a total of 78,424 schools offering education at the primary and secondary level, of which 22,419 are in urban areas and 56,005 in rural areas. There are an estimated 50 lakh school students in Karnataka. Reprinting the textbooks and redistributing them would mean starting the humongous process from scratch, further delaying school education, which has
already suffered back-to-back issues starting with the pandemic impact.
Progressive education should be considered
Experts and progressive thinkers, on their part, have pointed out that if the revision was indeed required, then it should have been first done for core subjects, like Mathematics and Science, as these subjects provide a progressive — and not regressive — approach to the inquisitive minds of students.
Suresh Heblikar, noted writer, activist and filmmaker, says: “Ours is a tropical country with more than 60 per cent of the population depending on agriculture. Students must know how we could find ways to grow without discrimination and economic disparity. These are the new lessons or chapters that should have been included in Social Science. Mathematics and Physics don’t change much as they are structurally and universally the same. I feel some new discoveries in space sciences must be opened up to students.”
He says that as far as religion, caste and such sensitive issues are concerned, “Students must not be burdened with such affairs as they must grow as children and individuals of this beautiful planet which has given them land, water, air, forests, rivers and the awesome wildlife which they must feel like protecting. This must be education....Education is for creating a better atmosphere and better society.”
Shanta Sinha, ex-chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), says, “Instead of enhancing the content of textbooks to reinforce Constitutional principles of equality, social justice and democracy, it is a shame that the Karnataka government has actually removed some of the chapters that espoused such values.”
Prof GN Devy, literary critic and former professor, who is known for the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and creating the Adivasi Academy, says, “For almost a thousand years since Basavanna, Karnataka has formed its identity in terms of a lively dialectic between the ‘living presence of a teacher’s mind’ and ‘dominant national narrative’. What defines Karnataka is the rich history of the tension between the two. The Chakrathirtha Committee appears to have set aside the historical reality of ‘the being of Karnataka’ as well as the principle of inclusion that Dr Ambedkar embedded in the Constitution.”
Noted writer Devanuru Mahadeva says the democratic value and importance of the Constitution and its Preamble needs to be taught to kids from a young age. He says he, along with several like-minded people, would take the initiative to teach students through a new platform, to equip them to know and understand the Constitution.
Meanwhile, there are varying opinions on the ongoing controversy, with novelist SL Bhyrappa categorically defending the government, saying textbooks must teach students the truth, and not ideologies. Terming the textbook revision a “big shame”, Krishna Kolhar Kulkarni, historian and researcher whose works were taught to students in Karnataka and Maharashtra, and is a Rajyotsava awardee, says, “This is purely politically motivated."
"The government’s responsibility, irrespective of ideology, is to ensure communal harmony in society. Promoting a religion by targeting another through school textbooks does not send a good message. The government should rope in experts and educationists who are not affiliated to any political party or their wings, to ensure quality and fact-based lessons on History and Kannada literature in textbooks,” he said.
Call for revocation of revision
The National Coalition on Education Emergency (NCEE), a pan-India coalition of groups of individuals, organisations and networks to ‘resume and renew’ school education post the pandemic, has urged the state government to “revoke” revisions in the textbooks.
Calling the changes “regressive” and done in an “arbitrary manner, without adherence to well-defined curriculum framework and processes”, the coalition has asked the government to print and supply textbooks which have been in use post the last revision, and “focus energies on addressing the serious education emergency in the state, prepare a road map, allocate sufficient resources and implement programmes to enable the children of marginalised and poor communities overcome learning deprivation due to the pandemic”. The NCEE has called the process and substance of textbook revision “undemocratic and antithetical to the core values of our education system and Constitution, for several reasons”.
The NCEE added that the government constituted a committee of seven men, who took the decision to add and drop chapters, without the broad consultation that has characterised textbook preparation in the past. “In sharp contrast, the 2014 Baraguru Ramachandrappa committee worked through 27 committees, comprising 172 experts, to revise the textbooks, and held several public consultations to hear diverse views. It is not known if the Chakrathirtha committee held any public consultations. The preparation of textbooks requires a high sense of responsibility, as textbooks are the primary resource to which lakhs of young minds will be exposed,” the NCEE added.
The coalition also pointed out that the Education Minister had announced that the committee would first submit a report which would be studied, and only then the revision would be done. “However, there is no evidence that the committee submitted a report for public discussion, preceding revision. The composition of the committee does not reflect the reality of Karnataka society,” stated the coalition, alleging that it is dominated by Brahmins.
“The entire process (of revision) is undemocratic, opaque and does not follow principles of justice,” says Dr Niranjanaradhya VP, development educationist, mentor of SDMCs and chief advocate of ‘Neighbourhood Common School System’ through State Funded Public Education.
“Lack of diversity undermines the committee’s credibility. Denial of perspectives of those who have suffered social injustice over centuries reinforces those injustices. The revision violates the aim of education articulated in the eponymous position paper of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), 2005,” says the NCEE.
The coalition has drawn the attention of the government to the plight of children, who suffered a “catastrophic situation during the pandemic without access to structured learning opportunities and textbooks. They need a variety of learning materials, including textbooks, which should reflect the ideals of social justice, democracy, egalitarianism and India’s common cultural heritage (NCF 2005),” the coalition added.
Bala Chauhan & Shilpa P/Bengaluru; Karthik KK/Mysuru; Mahesh Goudar/Bagalkot/ Vijayapura; Prakash Samaga/Udupi; Divya Cutinho/Mangaluru; Udaya Kumar BR/Hassan; Ramachandra Gunari/Shivamogga