Questionable Texts

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Government schools in Kashmir are the best in human resource and  poor in infrastructure. But the major reason for the parents to stop sending their kids to the state run schools is not infrastructure or the teachers. The archaic and faulty text that is part of the curriculum is the real problem, reports Javid Sofi

On March 12, 2012, when schools across Kashmir were festive after season’s winter break ended, Government Middle School (GMS) at Gundipora (Pulwama) had an awkward situation to face.

The number of students started dwindling sharply.  Parents in Gundipora, a habitation of around 170 households were getting their wards discharged form GMS.

 “Around 70 students were registered in the school that year,” recalls Ghulam Nabi Ganie, an aged resident of Gundipora, who had retired from state’s horticulture department as junior agricultural extension officer few years ago. The migration was so fast that within first few weeks of the season, barring five students belonging to poor families, all others had left and joined private schools.

Private schools were hyped by villagers so much that they became synonymous with modern education. Eventually it swayed the remaining five students, who had initially resisted migration, thereby brining GMS Gundipora to closure. Authorities shifted teachers to other places.

For next two years, the school remained locked. Now in disuse, the premises of the school building comprising three single storied huts, witnessed growth of wild shrubs and many verities of thorny bushes.

“When your book has 92 percent names which appear strange to students it is abstract knowledge,” said Umar Rashid, a government teacher. He said that in every teacher training programmed they are being instructed to lead a student from concrete to abstract knowledge.

Authorities of school education department decided to give it one more chance before officially closing down the village school. New teachers were posted in April of 2015 and a village education committee was constituted to oversee the functioning the school.

A series of meetings and deliberations resulted in motivating parents to send their kids back to the school on condition that their kids would be taught text books other than those prescribed by the Jammu and Kashmir state board of school education (JKBOSE), at least up to fifth standard.

The proposal was accepted; school syllabi for lower primary classes were framed as per demands of villagers. This led many students to return and rejoin the school they had abandoned earlier.  In a short span of time GMS Gundipora started outshining reputed private schools in its vicinity. The school enrolled around 90 students.

Bashir Ahmad Thoker, head-teacher at GMS Gundipora, considers it more of an innovation than violation of JKBOSE’s set norms. “We had no option than to accept the demands of parents,” Thoker said.

Parents had a strong reason for rejecting JKBOSE prescribed textbooks. JKBOSE approved textbooks were unappealing to students because they were printed on poor quality paper.

Aged Ganie, who has admitted his grand-daughter, Falak Farooq into the school, believes that JKBOSE approved text books are not as per with demands of time. “The books are staffed with outdated information,” he said.

Ishtiyaq Ahmad, a teacher at GMS Gundipora, is teaching environmental science to lower primary classes. Though, he likes content of board approved text books but to him presentation is problematic.

“The presentation is more hectic, more time consuming and less beneficial to students. It appears that while framing these text books experts have given a damn to local teaching-learning environment existing in valley’s government schools,” he said.  “The books present more abstract knowledge to puerile minds of young children which becomes very difficult for them to understand. The prescribed activities become impractical in a teaching –learning environment we work in.”

Take the instance of A textbook of Environmental Studies for students of class third in government schools. It refers to the names of Madho, Sonal, Gurleen, Nagarajan, Ramulu, Chinamma, Jaggu Bhai, Sitamma, Gitamma, Sarama, Shankar, Kalyani, Chandu, Malini, Avantika , Anwari, Krishna and Sajida.

Out of 65 characters mentioned in 20 chapters of the textbook, 60 names are not spoken in Kashmir.

Authorities in JKBOSE said they run short of finances to improve paper quality of textbooks. “The department is on the verge of bankruptcy, a huge amount of around Rs 1,04,62,65,012 is outstanding with state project director Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) Srinagar,” they said

“When your book has 92 percent names which appear strange to students it is abstract knowledge,” said Umar Rashid, a government teacher. He said that in every teacher training programmed they are being instructed to lead a student from concrete to abstract knowledge. The teacher was dismayed with experts who do its reverse in text books. Better teachers always like to teach children names of persons, places and things which are available to them in their vicinity.

 A child always finds it hard to understand abstract knowledge. “When you learn about names, dresses and festivities of other sections of people rather than your own it will debase you from your cultural moorings,” he said.

Let us look around and learn, Environmental Studies, a textbook for class fourth contains a lesson, “A visit to Jammu and Kashmir”.

Sketches of racial biases get manifested in the depiction of characters for two regional communities as all people from one region were said to be brave while all people from other region were generalized as shepherds.

Just consider this: (sic) “We start our journey from the Jammu region of this state by small buses. The people of Jammu are called Dogras. They speak the Dogri language. These people are known for their bravery.” For the people of Kashmir, the book teaches:, (sic) “People of Kashmir valley rear sheep. They earn a lot from sheep wool.”

Moving ahead Kangri has been described like this; (sic) “It is a small earthen pot. They put burning coal inside this pot and keep it in a cane basket. Sometimes they keep the Kangri inside their clothes very carefully.”

“These factual errors were brought into the notice of concerned authorities a number of times but to no avail,” said Riyaz Ahmad, another government teacher. “The fact is that Kangri is always used like this and Kashmir has historically never survived on sheep wool.”

Majaz Maisar Wani, a writer and teacher of sociology said that it is wrong to name all people living in Jammu as Dogras.“No doubt Dogras are a predominant ethnic group living in Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua and Samba but there are other ethnic groups also living in Jammu. The projection is objectionable.”

Subject specialized teachers believe prejudices and biases are deliberately put into textbooks at primary level to corrupt puerile minds of young children.

“On surface reading there appears nothing wrong with this generalization that ‘people living in Jammu are called as Dogras’ but when deciphered in perspective and context, the underlying   political motives and biases get exposed,” the teacher said.

To Ghulam Nabi, a senior teacher at government primary school (GPS), Wahibugh, who teaches English to students of first standard, the textbook is a bad tool with which he has to fight every day.

The textbook published under Tulip Series lacks continuity. It starts with introduction to alphabets and then suddenly jumps over to rhymes and prose in subsequent six chapters. “The English textbook has no chapter on formation of sentences,” he said.

Hafsa Shameem and Irtiza Mushtaq, first standard students at GPS Wahibugh, struggle with simple words like ‘King’ or ‘Quilt’. They spelled individual letters in these words correctly but failed to read them as one word.

Naila Nelofar, Academic officer for English in JKBOSE said that students of first standard are presupposed to be acquainted with basics but the fact is that they are not.

“Government schools lack kindergarten classes, introduction of kindergarten classes must be taken seriously by the government for acquainting children with basics of language,” she said.

She also said that the textbook could have been made better and that they are seeking a revision by next summer season.

Merry Math, a textbook of Mathematics for fifth class students contains twelve chapters on topics ranging from shapes and angles to multiplication and division. Innovatively framed, this textbook uses a story way methodology of teaching, which many traditional teachers find difficult to use.

King Akbar and his court poet Birbal are main characters in a two page story, Greedy Gate Keepers, aimed at acquainting students with ‘parts and whole.’

“Story takes precedence over underlying concept. When you tell a story it induces passivity among students. Mathematics is a subject which demands attention,” said Farooz Ahmad, a teacher who took the challenge to teach mathematics to lower primary classes when all other teachers in his school put their hands down. “Lets us suppose that children pick up underlying concepts very well, there must be sufficient exercises to check their knowledge with. The number of exercises is near to nil,” Ahmad said.

For a traditional teacher under traditional class room set up with constraints of time and space, the textbook becomes more of a headache than a guide.

Authorities in JKBOSE said they run short of finances to improve paper quality of textbooks. “The department is on the verge of bankruptcy, a huge amount of around Rs 1,04,62,65,012 is outstanding with state project director Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) Srinagar,” they said. “Despite repeated remainders the amount is yet to be released.”

Director Academics, JKBOSE, Srinagar, Dr Farooq Ahmad Peer said that the department is open to suggestions. “We appeal all stake holders to come forward with their suggestions, the suggestions will be put before review committee and if they carry weight they will be incorporated,” he said. “We have proposed to the government to frame a community of experts for reviewing JKBOSE approved textbooks. The recommendations of the committee will be taken on priority basis. If they find any errors they will be corrected.”

The textbooks, JKBOSE officials said, are framed in accordance with guidelines of National Curriculum Framework 2005. They give 15 percent space to local content and 85 percent material is taken from textbooks published by National Council of Education Research and Trainings (NCERT), New Delhi. However, in a recent review, held in August 2017 at Delhi, NCERT published books were found riddled with 1,300 factual errors. Around 900 teachers had sent over 2,500 suggestions for correction in NCERT textbooks.

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