Controversies around textbooks are a regular affair in Bangladesh and it seems to be never ending. This year's controversy seems to be the biggest in terms of the number of warring groups and each group's refusal to compromise and listen to others. It all started with some creating an uproar about a purported attempt of making children less religious or even anti-religious through the newly published textbooks. Next came out another camp whose main concern was about mistakes and plagiarism in the new school books.
The government side is trying to defend itself from attacks of both sides. Its main strategy is to project the whole controversy as fake news. This has always been a problem in our political culture. We hardly take responsibility for any failure and rather paint the accuser in a very negative manner. Let us find the root causes of such regularly occurring controversies in the country.
Bangladesh has been struggling to set up a sound education policy and curriculum since its independence. Education policy, curriculum and textbooks change almost inevitably with the changes of government. Besides that, changes in all these frequently happen under the rule of a single government, too. Under the present government many changes happened in recent years that put students, teachers and guardians into a hurricane of confusion. No sooner had they been habituated to a system when a new one stared them in the face. This is almost an unending cycle we have been trapped into.
Our policymakers seem to have taken textbook changes as something like repairing roads, which is the most common scenario in the country. We have been repairing roads unendingly because we never make any that lasts long. This is a machine that churns out money tirelessly for contractors as per their hunger. This textbook correction year after year has a similarity with that situation of continuing road repair. Benefits going to interested groups for these nice great activities can be left out to anyone's guess.
Mistakes, accusations and controversies are natural in so many attempts of change in textbooks, especially when the process followed in our country is hardly democratic. Changes, additions and cutting outs occur in an imposing manner, which gives people a sense of being ignored by the authority. That children are said to be made guinea pigs for experiments in the education sector is not a baseless suspicion. They live in confusion and uncertainty at new changes in books, exams and curriculum throughout their education life. Guide/note books become their only friends in this tumultuous journey. Teachers receive so inadequate training for so short period that many of them also have no alternative to relying on guide books. These inconsiderate changes time and again make note books, private tuition and coaching centers part of their lives.
This year's changes are also no different from the previous ones but have caused more uproar in society. It is noticeable that textbooks of Classes I, VI and VII are newly written and printed as experimental versions. Now, why do you give experimental versions to children to study? Why couldn't you wait at least a year by keeping it as an experimental version on the website for receiving feedbacks from teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders? This would prove NCTB's willingness to show respect to people's opinions about textbook changes.
A question is often laid out as a lame excuse that whether there would not be any change in the textbook when necessary to cope with the vast changes in the modern world. Of course, there should be changes when necessary. But it is not only changes that make people unhappy and angry, rather the process of this where they have little say but are forced to swallow things.
Take the issue of inclusion of the evolutionary theory in the book of history and social science for class VI. It has been clearly mentioned twice on pages 21 and 24 that humans have not originated from monkeys and chimpanzees. This itself shows the fear of the authors of this chapter about the chaos this inclusion might cause. But the theory has not got any place in the science book of the same class, which is its natural place. Then there is no hint of Darwin's theory of evolution in Classes VII and VIII. It has been discussed in detail in the science book of Class IX-X, against which none has made any complaint so long.
The question is: Why did you think it so urgent to discuss a theory of biological science in the book of history for Class VI students without any continuity through upper classes? Moreover, one should know that the key point of the evolutionary theory is 'natural selection,' which has come up properly in the science book of Class IX, without discussion of which this theory is hard to grasp. The inclusion of this topic in Class VI's history book and also 'Adolescence' in such a detailed manner in the Human Body chapter of its science book without prior sharing of opinions with teachers and parents is not well intentioned. Have teachers been well trained to deliver these matters of knowledge in a proper way in the classroom? Unwanted incidents in our schools surrounding teaching and teachers are not so rare. Then why so much hurry? If you ask about bowing before superstitious minds in society, the education, cultural and social policies run so long by the government are first responsible for the growth of those superstitious minds.
The accusations of plagiarism and relying on Google translator for authoring books for students of Bangladesh are based on facts, which is quite shameful for the authority. It is a matter of grave worry for all of us that the textbook writing and printing business in our country is not in safe hands of people who are committed to responsibility and morality required for this great task.
Alamgir Khan is Editor, Biggan O Sangskriti
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