Our country comes first and the textbooks need to reflect that. The Emergency and Pokhran episodes have to be duly represented in the textbooks. The report will be finalised and after studying all the suggestions.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, BJP MP and chairman of Ministry of Education committee in the Parliament, has said that the school textbooks in India must put the country first and the 1975 Emergency and Pokhran Nuclear Tests conducted in 1998 should also get duly representation in the Indian education.
As the head of Indian Council Cultural Relations (ICCR), Sahasrabuddhe plans to bring university students from other countries to engage with Indian students and vice versa in order to expose both groups to democratic cultures. He also wants to step in and end the culture of functioning in silos. For this he has proposed that NCERT and ICHR must work in collaboration for history writing, and end 'domination of a certain kind of historians'.
In an interview with News18 he discusses the growth of the education sector and why the ‘unhistorical references’ must be removed from school textbooks. Edited excerpts:
As the head of the Education Ministry Committee in the Parliament, can you tell us what issues in education are on your priority list?
As it happens, the chairman is not the decision maker about the agenda of the Parliamentary/standing committees. When we decided to discuss textbooks, we (Parliamentary committee) had tweeted from our handle, inviting suggestions. It was done democratically. The exercise is timed with the implementation of the new National Education Policy that has several reforms outlined by the government. But some issues require independent application of mind for example - social work education. There are so many social work colleges mushrooming in the country but what kind of social workers are they producing? Where do they land and what kind of career opportunities do they get? These are the issues that need to be addressed. If you allow 100 social work colleges to open, it is going to dilute the entire approach towards social work. We will be discussing this in the forthcoming meetings.
Then there are other things that are important such as introducing standardisation in learning about arts, fine arts. In Indian colleges, there are divisions between arts and craft which are alien to Indian ethos. If a Madhubani painter is an artist, why can’t a designer work on copper utensils? Why are they not considered as artists? This artificial division between art and craft requires deeper analysis.
We will also be discussing examination reforms as the dates for class 10 and 12 examination have been announced. So we are proposing to come out with a question bank. In a question bank, there can be three types of questions, and in each type there will be 25 questions providing a broader outline of the challenge the student can prepare for.
Every time there is a change in the central or state government, the issue of textbook changes assumes importance. In fact, the education panel headed by you has also raised the issue of ‘unhistorical references in textbooks’. Can you explain these references?
When we say ‘unhistorical references’, we mean that there was a group of historians who believed in the Aryan invasion theory, which has been challenged by historians and even leaders like BR Ambedkar. It has been rejected. When PV Narsimha Rao was the Prime Minister, a UN resolution was passed to observe 1995 as the year of indigenous people. Rao’s government was not convinced and rejected the idea, saying all are indigenous in India and there are no one non-indigenous people here. Why should we observe this?
We have found that the Aryan invasion theory and some more related issues are not based on facts. We have to remove references on this. There is research done on the subject of Saraswati civilisation, which has to be incorporated in the textbooks. Our civilisation did not start with Mohenjo Daro. It was much before that, which has been studied by historians and archaeologists. We have to incorporate it.
There is not much written on the history of north east and the struggle for freedom there. How many would know about Naga freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu? Or who has read about Kanaklata who braved the British and died fighting? Our country comes first and the textbooks need to reflect that. The Emergency and Pokhran episodes have to be duly represented in the textbooks. The report will be finalised and after studying all the suggestions.
We will also recommend that Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), a government body must be consulted by the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) for textbook writing. This is important so that we don’t depend on certain types of historians as a particular group has dominated history writing. We cannot be functioning in silos, we are here to end them.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently addressed students in JNU/AMU on their cultural legacy. He wanted AMU to exploit their soft power and contribute to nation building. In JNU he unveiled the statue of Swami Vivekananda. What are your views on his addresses in these universities?
Leaders like the Prime Minister Narendra Modi can only give wiser counsel and the implementation depends on only those who listen. A leader is always a guiding force. And the prime minister is playing that role. If you refer to Jawaharlal Nehru’s address to the Aligarh Muslim University students in 50s, he, too, told the students to relate to the past of this country and take pride in the country. Where is the difference?
As the ICCR chief, how do you want universities participating on the global stage with their culture and soft power?
I have suggested the idea to the government that Indian universities must engage with foreign universities on a cultural level. For example, a university in Pune can engage with a university in Tashkent. We can engage with 10 meritorious students of a university in another country and vice versa, and expose the young students to our democratic culture and vice versa.
Similarly, we are proposing that with the 75th year of Indian Independence we can invite the young leaders (under the age 35) of political parties in other democratic countries and help them understand our democracy. This is a way to invest in the younger leadership of foreign countries and create new friendships.
The pandemic exposed the digital disparity in accessing education during the Covid-19 lockdown. Reports by the government and many non-government organisations have revealed that a section of students was cut off from the digital medium. What is the way forward as many states are introducing ed-tech and hybrid models in education?
We know about the lack of access to the digital devices for education and the pandemic exposed it. A lot of these things and the solutions have been discussed in the meetings. Even though there is impetus on digital literacy and smartphones we gave the idea of deploying new measures to reach out to the students lacking digital access. Let me give you an example. In a class of 40 students there are 20 who have access and there are 20 who do not. Then can’t those who have access reach out to the deprived ones? Some of these students can become teachers.
There are some good examples from Assam, UP and Pune where classes were conducted in open air with the microphone. The state government will have to address these gaps but let me add DD and AIR played a remarkable role in ensuring that instructional activities continue during the pandemic.
With the ‘violent insurrection’ in the US Capitol Hill, do you think the world will look at the United States differently now – in the manner of ‘put your own house in order before preaching democracy’?
Whenever these kinds of things happen in a country, they impact negatively the overall profile of that country. The United States of America is famous for promoting democracies all over the world, but then there are occasions to look within, this was one of them for them.