What does the NCERT have to say to eight-year-olds about families?

While scrolling through a class 3 NCERT text book for Environmental Studies called “Looking around”, I stopped at a chapter called “Families can be different.” I was eager to find out if eight-year-olds were still being taught that the father is the head of the family and other laughable social stereotypes, or if things have changed, as the title of the chapter seemed to suggest.

Families can be different turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. The chapter takes you into the homes of differently structured families. First we meet Tanya’s family consisting of her father, mother, brother and herself: the quintessential nuclear family.

No prizes for guessing the nature of our next friend Sitamma’s family. In a pleasant and un-obvious way, the writers of the textbook bring out the pros and cons of living in a joint family. Sitamma may have more responsibilities than Tanya, but she probably has a little more fun to make up for it.

I expected the chapter to end there. The nuclear and the joint family are the only kinds I remember learning about, or at least the only ones that stayed with me, while I was in primary school (in the 90s). But NCERT has caught up with the times, it seems.

For example, there’s Tara who was adopted by her single mother. There’s a couple, Sara and Habib (there isn’t explicit mention of their marital status though I presume they are married), who lives with Habib’s father and have no children.

Then there’s Totaram who lives in an all-male household in the city with his father, uncle and brothers. Krishna and Kaveri live with their father and visit their mother during the vacations. At least Kaveri does; Krishna prefers staying home.

The nice part about how this textbook for eight-year-olds is written is that each of the families seems to be a happy bunch. None demand sympathy; one doesn’t seem particularly better or easier than the other.

This may not be anything revolutionary. And obviously, a textbook is only as good as the teacher is and the environment the child is brought up in, but it’s a little comforting that kids are not being taught stereotypes at school the way they sometimes are on television and elsewhere. Could there be a day when NCERT will introduce us to Babloo who lives with his homosexual parents? Well, one can hope...