The role of textbooks in perpetuating regional conflict

“The roots of endemic conflict that we see in our region, both at international and sub-national levels, lie in the rigid, aggressive identities to which the unreformed systems of education actively and copiously contribute” 

These are the words of Krishna Kumar, Professor of Education at Delhi University and a former Director of India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training [NCERT].

In May he wrote an article pointing out that among the goals articulated at various summits of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation [SAARC] is the goal of textbook review and reform.  He focussed on this goal’s potential for enabling India and Pakistan to build a larger South Asian identity that does not threaten national identities.

After studying school textbooks used in the two countries for the teaching of history he has concluded that education has played a significant role in making India-Pakistan relations ‘poor and brittle’. His analysis was confined to the portrayal of the freedom struggle and the sample included textbooks used in English-medium private schools, as well as those used in government schools in different States.

Professor Kumar sees a departure from old styles and content in Indian syllabi and textbooks at all levels, giving a more rounded representation of the nationalist movement and its aftermath. Partition is represented as people experienced it on both sides of the newly created border. As yet, he says, no such reform has taken place in Pakistan. The teaching of history transmits only the official ideology.

He rightly concludes that a South Asia in which nations and communities relate to each other in an open, friendly environment requires teachers who are able to shape that social ethos. In a 2010 interview with The Hindu, when he looked back on his five-year tenure as NCERT director, he pointed out that its peace education initiative needs expansion, adding, “We have also brought out a series of project books for environment education.”

The next post will recall Winin Pereira’s analysis of Maharashtrian school textbooks which ‘actively promoted’ the Western model of development, in which a small group of the rich and powerful control and exploit the majority.

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