Interview: NCERT omissions mock the collective intelligence of Kerala’s people: Education Minister Sivankutty

Sivankutty said the supplementary books promote inclusive and modern education, equipping students to meet challenges in a changing world.

ByK A Shaji

Published Aug 19, 2023 | 10:00 AM Updated Aug 19, 2023 | 10:00 AM

V Sivankutty Kerala supplementary textbooks

Kerala is setting a precedent in the higher secondary education sector.

When higher secondary schools reopen in September after the Onam festival vacation, students in the state will receive supplementary textbooks that will carry recent history and personalities such as Jawaharlal Nehru, the Mughals, the 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and the Gujarat riots of 2002.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) had controversially removed these portions from textbooks, which many viewed as part of a “saffronisation” of senior secondary education.

Though NCERT’s exclusion of the portions sparked strong protests from non-BJP governed states, none, except Kerala, declared that the omitted portions would be restored in the shape of supplementary textbooks.

The move is meant to provide students an inclusive, clear, and balanced history of the nation, said Minister for General Education and Labour V Sivankutty in an exclusive interaction with South First.

The supplementary textbooks, which are now being printed, will be distributed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at an event to be held at the Government Senior Secondary School for Girls, Cotton Hill, in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday, 23 August.

​A State Committee member of the CPI(M) and a functionary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Sivankutty has been active in politics since his student days. He felt the “course correction” necessary since false narratives are being taught to students for apparently political reasons.

​Sivankutty hoped that other non-BJP-ruled states would emulate the Kerala model of resistance in the form of supplementary textbooks. He felt the secular and democratic forces in the country are duty-bound to resist the saffronisation of the educational sector, which otherwise, in the long run, would derail the concepts of democracy, co-existence, and pluralism. ​Edited excerpts:

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Q. Kerala’s move puts it in direct confrontation with the Union government. What will be the fallout of this move?

​A. As soon as the removal of such major historical events (assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the Gujarat riots, etc) from textbooks became a national-level concern, the Curriculum Committee ​of Senior Secondary Education in Kerala formed a sub-committee. It held ​several rounds of comprehensive discussions​. The sub-committee concluded that several portions ​removed by the NCERT from textbooks were of significance​, and it is the duty of a secular government to teach such portions to students in the state.

When I informed the chief minister and the Cabinet about the sub-committee’s conclusion, they found merit in its recommendations. They approved the suggestion to print supplementary textbooks with the removed contents. As the new textbooks have already been printed by omitting such important portions, we had no way other than printing them as supplementary textbooks.

The curriculum​ involving the reintroduced portions will have history lessons for pre-primary to higher secondary classes​. Until the NCERT​ omitted those portions, we strictly followed the NCERT textbooks and never raised objections.

For us, it’s not confrontation. There is no question of a fight. We are doing our duty of imparting quality and secular education to students. The Constitution wants original and quality content in textbooks. We are committed to it.

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​Q. There is a campaign on that says the supplementary textbooks are meant only for additional reading, and there is no compulsion to study them to appear for the examination.

A. It is absolute nonsense. The full syllabus comprises supplementary textbooks as well. They are not for complementary readings. Students must study them for their exams since only then would they understand the different streams of Indian history. They must understand the plural, secular, and inclusive ethos of Indian history.

Q. Was the NCERT move unexpected? Did the state anticipate it?

A. Across India, this is time for curriculum reforms, and the Union and state governments are engaged in the process. At the national level, the NCERT deleted many sections from the texts taught in Classes 6 to 12. They were apparently removed at the behest of the BJP-RSS dispensation.

Whenever such instances created headlines, Kerala was the first among Indian states to quickly and academically respond to such unilateral impositions. In the beginning, they claimed the exclusions were made to reduce the academic burden induced by the Covid lockdown. However, anybody who goes through these books will understand that the omissions did not reduce the academic load but were meant to protect some rightist propaganda.

Q. Why are you limiting the supplementary books to the senior secondary level? Why are they not extended to junior classes?

A. In Kerala, the state prepares the textbooks for Classes 1 to 12. So the changes made by NCERT for textbooks for Classes 6 to 10 at the national level do not significantly affect the students in Kerala.

However, the NCERT textbooks are used in Classes 11 and 12, and the omissions mock the collective intelligence of the state and its people. The academic community in Kerala could not accept the massive exclusion of events they have made in History, Political Science, Economics and Sociology textbooks.

Through these deletions, attempts are beingmade to hide the basics of the Constitution, the country’s history, and the country’s fundamental problems. Avoiding some subjects, especially those related to humanities, by labelling them unsuitable for the era, is politically motivated and against the spirit of diversity.

Q. How do you view the Union government’s interference with textbooks? Are they a part of the rightist agenda to change the course of the discourse on history?

​A. Nobody can change the history of the country, the spirit of the freedom struggle, and the constitutional values we cherish. The core values must be preserved while attempting curriculum and textbook changes. I suspect a hidden agenda behind all such regressive moves.

Kerala is now initiating a nationwide discussion. Our sole motive is to protect national and academic interests. Our children must study five-year plans. They must know about internal Emergency. The new generation must properly understand people’s movements and agitations for equality. International politics and changing equations must be brought to the children’s attention. US imperialism, poverty and its causes, social realities, caste-based discrimination, etc, must be discussed in classrooms, and the students must learn about the forces that created them.

Also read: How gender equality drive in Kerala schools has been derailed

Q. What is the status of the supplementary textbooks? Is the printing over?

A. Committees entrusted with the​ preparation of textbooks have already done it, and the process of preparing the supplementary textbooks for the​ required subjects ​remains. Printing is fast progressing, and I can assure you that they are being prepared with the approval of the ​curriculum sub-committee​.

Q. Why​ such a bold decision ahead of the Lok Sabha elections?

A. The study of social sciences requires students to have a comprehensive approach.​ The curriculum sub-committee, which looked into the deleted contents of the social​ science textbooks, concluded that the deletions were arbitrary and​ irrational.

The NCERT has deleted the topics without attempting to fill the deleted content’s gaps. Our attempt is only to bridge the gap. ​Among the 112 titles followed by higher secondary classes in the state, there are only​ 32 NCERT titles, and SCERT Kerala is preparing the rest.

​Q. Do you expect any retaliation from the Union government​ for your attempts?

​A. In India, education is on the Concurrent List​. The state governments have the right to ​decide the topics in the school syllabus​. In this context, we don’t ​foresee any reason for the Union government to be vengeful. It is the state government’s prerogative to see that the​ principles enshrined in our Constitution remain intact.

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​Q. Will ​the BJP in Kerala allow the distribution of books?​ Do you foresee any resistance?

​A. It is up to the BJP’s state unit to protest or not protest against the supplementary textbooks. All of them have personally benefitted from the inclusive and superior education available in the state. These books are aimed at protecting the larger public interest. There is nothing against anybody.

​Q. Do the supplementary textbooks touch upon the Gujarat riots and RSS ban​ following the assassination of Gandhiji?

​A. The supplementary books will be released soon, and the contents will be​ available in the public domain. The topics included will then be known. The topics that​ the academic body recommended are part of the textbooks.​ As a minister, I prefer not to make any claims. We followed a solid and proper process in deciding the content. It was not a propaganda affair. Our actions must be accountable.

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​Q. What other steps has Kerala’s General Education Department taken to fight the​ saffron agenda?

A. The state government is firm in its commitment to uphold constitutional values​, and ​my department is committed to undertaking steps ​that can ensure an inclusive education.​

For us, education is empowerment. We are firm that the weakest among the weak must be empowered. Proper, modern and scientific education must be imparted to all. In the changing global context, we need the kind of education that can help students compete with people from other parts of the world.

Q​. Are the supplementary books part of the Left’s ideological fight​ against aggressive Hindutva?

A. We all have our ideologies and continue our fights at different levels. The supplementary books only attempt to ensure fairness, balance, and an inclusive approach to the education system. The focus is more on imparting quality education to the students and making them compatible in the context of a changing world.

​Q. What is the response of the Opposition UDF?

A. We are taking an approach that remains accountable to our Constitution, history and national leaders. We are determined in our responses to both Gandhiji and Nehru. So the questions about the Opposition’s cooperation are hypothetical. It is a reflection of the collective will of the state of Kerala. We are setting a model for people and states in other parts to emulate.