Parties should stop pushing their agendas through the medium of education, say parents

If you want to know which party rules Tamil Nadu, get hold of a school textbook.

In keeping with the tradition of the ruling party blanking out references to its political opponent, the AIADMK government has removed from newly-printed textbooks, references to contributions made by the previous regime.

Two years ago, when A. Kabilesh was in class I, his matriculation school teacher taught him that Thai was the first month in the Tamil calendar. This year, class I students will have a similar song on Tamil months, except that the calendar will begin with Chittirai.

“My son won a prize for reciting that poem well. We trained him for days and he knows the poem really well. Now, if his junior in school were to tell him that Chittirai is the first month, he would strongly disagree,” said Kabilesh's father N. Anand.

S. Madankumar, 15, who just wrote his class X examinations, recalls a section on libraries that mentioned the Anna Centenary Library in Kotturpuram. “I have been to the library and I think it is important to include it when one speaks of libraries in Tamil Nadu,” he said, adding that his brother Arunkumar's new class X textbook did not have that reference.

T. Sivakumar, their father, said: “It is just a library. What is the harm in retaining the reference to it?” Whether it is the DMK or the AIADMK, they should stop pushing political agendas through school textbooks.”

Such changes may seem minor, but the trend is worrisome. “Why can't we keep textbooks away from the whims of Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa? School education has seen enough controversies in the past few years due to political reasons,” said Mr. Anand

Textbooks under the Samacheer Kalvi syllabus have been victims of drastic changes in content and sudden deletions. Last year, hundreds of teachers had to tear pages, strike out passages and paste black stickers over content that was considered objectionable by the new government.

But later in the academic year, the Directorate of Teacher Education Research and Training (DTERT) roped in more than 40,000 teachers to review the textbooks. Their content and presentation was to be reviewed in detail, to improve their overall quality. The DTERT took up the exercise with the aim of bringing out error-free textbooks.

However, sources said the DTERT has only a limited say in matters pertaining to such political content. “Officials merely carry out instructions. Those in power do not like it if we raise questions,” said a government school teacher, who was involved in the exercise, pleading anonymity.

P.B. Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System, said parties in power could devote more energy to improving the quality and infrastructure of education in government schools, instead of playing “petty politics”.

“There is so much to be done in terms of improving the condition of government schools. Instead, parties seem to be more interested in changing textbook content,” he said.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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