Changes to class XII political science syllabus presents contentious issues as settled, discourages analytical thinking

Written by Aditya Sen

As a part of its response to the pandemic, the CBSE announced that it would cut portions of our course’s syllabus. These cuts varied in breadth and depth, and there was a universal reduction in the syllabus for virtually every subject; except for Political Science. After the first round of cuts, the CBSE announced a second round of modifications for the Political Science curriculum, which included additions to the syllabus. Therefore, as I prepared for my first 12th grade Political Science pre-board exam, I had to read the modified syllabus released by the CBSE, and had to skip existing pages from my textbook. As I read this new content, I couldn’t help but make a few observations.

Before I continue, it is important to discuss the nature of the currently prescribed grade 11 and 12 CBSE Political Science textbooks. The content of the textbook is usually presented in one of two ways, depending on its type.

When the book seeks to explain and describe various historical events, it assumes a narrative tone and describes these events in a relatively easy to understand fashion, while pointing out possible causes, and their consequences. This process often unfolds over multiple paragraphs, wherein logical links are pronounced, and this ultimately feeds a larger idea. This is the only portion of the textbook that includes obvious decrees and explicit endorsements of particular ideas. However, these decrees are fairly uncontroversial/innocuous, and manifest as statements such as “Emergency was harmful to India’s democracy”, “the Sino-Indian war was detrimental for India’s territorial integrity”, and “Sri Lankan Tamil extremists like the LTTE are not nice individuals.”

The remainder of the textbook is concerned with the dissection of contemporary political issues, and the debate that surrounds them. The clearest example of this is the chapter on globalisation, from the reader Contemporary Global Politics. The textbook realises that globalisation is a contentious issue, that has not found an easy resolution. It is, therefore, hesitant in presenting globalisation as an issue wherein a consensus has been reached. Instead, after defining globalisation as an economic, political and cultural concept, the book explains the various attitudes towards it, and its perceived pros and cons from the political left and right. It ends the section with a description of a point of view that reconciles the positives of globalisations and the anxieties of individuals from across the political spectrum. However, it does not go beyond this description to explicitly endorse any perspective on the issue.

Now, about the cuts and additions. The majority of the cuts were in chapters 3 (US Hegemony in World Politics), 7 (Security in the Contemporary World) and 8 (Environment and Natural Resources) from Contemporary Global Politics. These cuts aren’t particularly offensive, although if one wants to find issues with them, they can cite the Aarey Forest issue, and the treatment of indigenous Indians and link it with the deletion of chapter 8. However, the more controversial cuts are in the second reader, Politics in India Since Independence. Chapters 7 (Rise of Popular Movements) and 8 (Regional Aspirations) have been entirely deleted, and the contents of the textbook from chapter 3 (Politics of Planned Development) has been deleted and replaced by a three-paragraph passage concerning NITI Aayog. Chapter 9 (Recent Trends in Indian Politics) was also modified, wherein the section discussing the recent challenges and growing pains Indian secularism has faced in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and the 2002 Gujarat riots was deleted. However, a four-paragraph passage about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victories in 2014 and 2019 was added.

These paragraphs entirely attribute the Prime Minister’s electoral successes to his promise of bringing development, and the supposed accomplishment of these lofty goals. Even if we assume that there are no political considerations behind these cuts, the changes that have been made are particularly curious. One does not need to be a political junkie to realise that these issues — regional aspirations and federalism, popular movements and secularism — have arguably never been more important than they are today. With the abrogation of Article 370, and the hostility of the Centre to particular state governments concerning the implementation of GST, an economic stimulus in response to the pandemic, and politically-involved governors, the issue of regional aspirations is clearly an important one in modern India. Furthermore, popular movements are relevant in modern India given that there have been two large scale popular movements erupting across the country within a year of each other — the anti-CAA/NRC protest, and the farmers’ protest. The former was, in fact, caused by the government’s supposed attacks on secularism, and exhibited a broader critique of the realignment and communalisation of the Indian identity.

One of the admirable qualities of the textbook was its treatment of the reader as an intellectual equal. Contentious political issues were presented even-handedly, and it made the reader draw their own conclusions, and sometimes serving as a jumping-off point for longer, more abstract discussions. It described historical phenomena and their consequences in an understandable way and left some room for scepticism. All of this contributed to shaping one’s understanding of the subject as a subjective science that encouraged analysis and contained very few absolutes. The new content is terse and contains a plethora of problematic proclamations and decrees. Many of the conclusions the additional content makes, for example, about Article 370 and its alleged popular support, the failure of the Planning Commission are not settled issues in the least. They need to be explored evenhandedly, through a critical and analytical lens, with the added benefit of added hindsight, so as to ensure the correct conclusion can be drawn and presented to our nation’s generally impressionable student population.

I concede the terseness of the new content may make it easier to memorise and regurgitate and net students higher marks, whether or not this is done innocently due to its authority over their lives, or cynically. Either way, it does little, if anything to encourage the habit of analysis. This is particularly ironic when we consider the government and its rollout of the NEP, which is supposed to encourage ingenuity and critical thinking.

The writer is a student at the Shiv Nadar School, Noida

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