The school curriculum is required to be changed periodically. And it is universally known that of all courses, emotions run the highest when it comes to revising the history curriculum and syllabi. In the Indian context, yet another revision is in the offing but the proposed changes according to an official statement, will be introduced only after the New Education Policy is put in place in December, 2017.
Meanwhile, the Nyas headed by Dina Nath Batra (the former head of the education wing of the RSS, Vidya Bharati) has recommended that certain portions from the NCERT be deleted and several new portions be added. Some of the comments published or heard are as follows:
The history of valour must be taught through great personalities such as . . .
How can you inspire children by teaching them about riots?
Tagore should not be included – he placed humanity above nationalism
After reading these strange comments the basic question that comes to mind – yet again -is: ‘Why is History taught in school?’
When asked this key question, most history teachers give the standard answer comprising aims and purposes that are given as an introduction to the prescribed curriculum. These include: to know about our past and our heritage, to learn from the past and to avoid repeating mistakes of the past, to instil patriotism, to understand the present in the light of the past. A sense of time and chronological sequence is also considered important.
History teachers rarely raise a voice against the nature of the curriculum. They are more concerned about ‘completing the syllabus on time’ and preparing their students for exams and seeing that they obtain high scores. Hence their complaints are usually focussed on the burdens of a heavy syllabus. They get exasperated but are used to the curriculum being changed from time to time – especially when new educational policy makers come in.
Political leaders have always used the school history curriculum to spread and strengthen their ’cause and ideology’. Young minds must be influenced and captured. Historical figures and events have been selectively exploited to feed national pride. The focus is usually on the figures favoured by the party in power. Such historical figures are usually presented in the form of hagiographical accounts. And in order to glorify country and nation, dark patches of history have been deliberately ignored and even facts are distorted to suit the situation. For example, certain significant aspects of colonial rule are never taught in English schools as the British masters would be shown up in very poor light. In fact, it is only when I travelled to South Africa that I discovered how brutally the British ran concentration camps after the Boer wars and how mercilessly thousands of women and children were killed. Yet we always associate concentration camps with the Nazis.
In view of all these complexities, history teachers could seek some clarity by reflecting on the following:
Should we be selective when we teach about the past? In other words, do we stick to the given syllabus?
Should we use History as a tool to generate certain beliefs and attitudes? Will we not love our country even if we knew about the whole of its past?
Since we are an intrinsic part of humanity, should we not study History from the perspective of humankind?
Should History be taught ‘for peace’? Will teaching about riots, wars and dark phases of the past be counterproductive if we wish to teach History for peace? Do we need to be selective in order to promote peaceful co-existence? If so, would this be construed as academic dishonesty?
Should we not attend to the historian’s (and the history teacher’s) craft and try to get at the truth by investigating the evidence available and looking at the past from different perspectives?
In this context it is important that all history teachers have some idea of historiography. They must reflect on the question whether there is such a thing as ‘objective history’. Indeed, it is time we examined our own biases. And it is also vital that we keep asking ourselves the all-important question: ‘What is History?’
– Devi Kar