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The Fault In Our Syllabus: How School Textbooks Give No Space For Individual Growth

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By Devadutta Bhattacharjee:

Culture is the best contraception.

As absurd as it may sound to the regular, level headed logical reader here, it is a popular opinion throughout India. And it matters what people think when one of those people is our own Health Minister. Recently, Dr. Harsh Vardhan went as far as to suggest that faithfulness to one’s partner was the only sure shot way of preventing AIDS- an underlining of culture and morality clearly influencing his statements. So when it comes to including sex education in textbooks, one can imagine what that would consist of. Bird and bees, or a stork by the riverside if we are lucky.

This is just one example, brought into attention by a remark which had sparked a lot of controversy. The truth is, the standard textbooks used by the CBSE, ICSE, ISC or any other board are well structured and carefully planned with proper snippets of information on the side, enriching cartoons and footnotes, but in reality, they allow little or no space for individual opinions to be formulated.

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Right in the very first few pages of most of these books, after the contents, there is an elaborate and tabulated marking scheme, which dictates how many classes a teacher should spend on each topic, how many marks should be allotted to each topic, inadvertently dictating if ‘Consumer Right’ is more important or ‘Democracy’. In this scenario, where a student is given tools to do the bare minimum, there is hardly any attempt for any extra outside reading or out of the box thinking.

Any student who has grown up in a typical Indian education environment can relate that certain subjects like mathematics and the sciences have always been given more importance. The extra ‘tuitions’ are mostly for the sciences. Thus originates the timeless inclination of parents for their children to end up as a doctor or an engineer, or perhaps a lawyer or a journalist if they fail.

The fallacies in the material taught can be found in every page if one looks for it. For example, in a class 7th NCERT textbook, the first chapter is about equal rights, with examples from the universal adult franchise. However, it fails to make students understand that without financial equality, political equality means little to the underprivileged sections. It would be some time before the one-track educated student realizes the right of equality before the judiciary is full of loopholes, rendering them uninterested to the whole concept in the long run.

Studying Literature in CBSE Schools

One of the most commonly voiced grievances regarding this is the lack of literary classics from the English syllabus. While CBSE contents itself with certain short stories and poems and an occasional story by an author these students do recognize from the bestseller stands, the fact remains that our perception of someone being good in literature rests on how many big words a student uses or how he/she answers questions with no perspective at all. They are maybe not told in the exact words, but it is thoroughly implied to all students in their years of schooling that, even though the question asks, what you feel about this or that, they aren’t really asking for your opinion. On multiple occasions, I myself have gone with my red marked answers to the teacher, only to be sent back after being told that my opinion here actually means the author’s/teacher’s opinion.

The complete and utter ignorance of studying literature in the form of books and understanding them in depth is one of the main fallbacks. To this date, students of CBSE wishing to pursue literature can answer the entrance exam questions from To Kill a Mockingbird only if they have read and analyzed it themselves or with some external paid help.

Little Scope for Individual Development

With the 2014 elections, an era of established orthodoxy of the HRD ministry has come to an end with a non-graduate minister in the chair. While we have gotten past a lot of old rules and the textbooks are now more open to the sensitive incidences like the Emergency, the fact remains that there is little scope for individual development of each and every student who is unique in his or her own way.

For someone who has studied in a CBSE board school all her life, an irksome factor is the heavy display of patriotism and Godly references. Patriotism is perfectly acceptable and deemed desirable in textbooks, blind patriotism is not. With freedom fighters and nation leaders being shown in an almost God-like light, no wonder huge masses of people in our nation equate following a politician like following a religion even now.

Lastly, the problem of being lost in translation still exists in every rural area. Lack of proper training of the teachers once the new syllabus is out, or even the unwillingness to teach whatever may be beyond them results in those children learning everything in a lopsided, half correct way.

The Budget this year has proved promising in the education sector, with the arrangements being made for proper sanitation and hygiene which would enable girl students to remain in school, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Andolan, a more gender sensitive syllabus. But unless mainstream syllabuses aren’t contemporized, all these new measures would serve little to the target masses and in the end just fall back in regular, criticized lines like the current syllabus. It’s time to step back and see things from a new perspective now, because what we read and write today will make us what we are tomorrow.

You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    Thank you for stating that equality should be taught in schools. This will enable students to become aware about the biases that men face on a daily basis, about how courts give men stricter sentences for the same crimes that women commit, about how juries give verdicts against men in domestic disputes, about misandry in the media, about sexism against men, about how men are locked up in false cases of rape, dowry, and domestic abuse, about how their oppressors do not face punishment over the aforementioned crimes, among a host of other things.

    1. Salman Ravoof

      How did you even relate the two? This topic is about education, not sexism. Stick to that.

    2. Voice of reason

      Babar – Sir, I agree with you, schools should teach equality so that people come to know how dowry is an evil and how thousands of women have suffered for it, how women are equally intelligent and can do anything a man can. How our rich tradition is marred with gross inequality which often leads to human rights violation. How female infanticide is still practiced openly in India, and so on….

      i would want the school books to teach all that

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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