Historian K.N. Panikkar has said the S.K. Thorat panel, constituted to review the use of cartoons in the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks, had undone an academically commendable effort.
Terming the majority panel recommendation to delete several cartoons and texts of some others from the political science textbooks “most unfortunate,” Dr. Panikkar told The Hindu it is pardonable if politicians err on a matter like this, as they did in Parliament, demanding the removal of the cartoons, withdrawal of the textbooks and the punishment for the authors.
“… for their awareness about the academic and pedagogic reasons which govern the preparation of a textbook is at best very superficial. That is precisely the reason why the textbooks were referred to a committee of experts. The political leaders objecting to a particular cartoon is understandable, because they have to worry about their support base. The academic experts are not constrained by any such consideration,” he said.
Dr. Panikkar, a former Professor of History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, pointed out that the responsibility that devolved upon the committee, therefore, required a very careful academic consideration of the criteria adopted for either deleting or retaining the cartoons and texts.
“Unfortunately, the committee appears to have been carried away by the extra academic argument about the prevalence of multiple sensitivities in Indian society. It is entirely true that in a society as vast and diverse as India is, there can always be room for different understanding of the text and interpretation of visuals. That is precisely the reason why the students should be exposed to such texts and interpretations and their different understanding so that they overcome the in-built prejudices in society,” he said.
Explaining that attempts to hide different perceptions about social realities would only help to perpetuate the prejudices, Dr. Panikkar said cartoons with their humorous intent were perhaps one of the most effective media to sensitise students on such situations. “This is not to suggest that injury to the feelings of any section of society by representation or interpretation be overlooked.”
Dr. Panikkar said the committee did not appear to have given much thought to the pedagogic requirements of the National Curriculum Frame work (NCF).
“The NCF suggested a fundamental change in pedagogical practices by adopting a student-centred system. The new textbooks prepared under this scheme substantially differed from the earlier textbooks. Understandably, there were reservations about these textbooks, as they shifted the ‘burden of teaching’ to the ‘pleasure of learning.’ The cartoons, newspaper reports etc., are part of the resources necessary for this new pedagogic practice. Some time before there was a hue and cry about the history textbooks prepared under this scheme,” he said.
While welcoming the suggestion for wider consultations and pre-testing of texts, Dr. Panikkar reminded that the discussion with various types of schools and different religious and ethnic minorities should not be confused with their approval. “That would lead to serious academic compromises.”
Dr. Panikkar said the NCERT should desist from implementing the recommendations of the committee and organise wider consultations with educational experts and scholars of political science especially in the light of the adverse academic opinion the report has attracted along with the dissenting note of one of the committee members. “In the process, let us ensure that the textbooks are so prepared that the children are able to look critically at themselves and their society,” he said.