Saif Ahmad is the first standard student at a private school in south . His father Ghulam Ahmad Sofi runs a tea stall in Pulwama, which earns him a near-sufficient income to feed his family. Mr Sofi wanted to become a doctor but financial problems afflicting his family forced him to drop out of school at a young age soon after he wrote his senior secondary exam papers. But he hasn’t let this lack of fortune touch his son Saif, 6, and ensures that his son gets best available education. Often in the evenings when Saif has returned from school, Mr Sofi sits by his side to guide him in doing school assignments.
Some days ago when Mr Sofi was routinely quizzing his son on what he had learnt in school, the answer of Saif left him puzzled: “Papa, is God my father?” Saif asked.
Mr Sofi was perplexed and he asked Saif who had taught him so.
“Imtiyaz sir taught us a new rhyme today. Here, look at this,” Saif replied innocently, handing over the book to his father which contained the rhyme ‘O God, O God, You are my father; I am your Little Child.”
The book published by Delhi-based Impressive Publishers is part of English textbook series “Classmate” for lower primary classes which are being taught at various private schools in Kashmir. Mr Sofi thought the parental characterization of God in the textbook was offensive. Next day, he went to the school and raised his concern with the management who told him that the books can be changed from next session only.
“If teachers and parents don’t guide students, they will be misguided by books. Even if the content is offensive, the books are designed in such a way that it looks appealing. If the books teach that God is Father, the child will end up losing his religious and cultural moorings. How can God be Father? It is against the basic tenants of our religion. I looked on the face of my child. He was waiting for my answer, but I didn’t know what to tell him,” he said.
Saif studies at Career Care Institute of Education and Training which is located inside a single-storied complex in Newa village of Pulwama. The office of the school is housed on the first floor of a large, double-storied building, adjacent to which is SKM College of Education and Training which offers 10+2 and B.Ed courses. Both the institutes are owned by Ghulam Hassan Talib, a KAS officer who retired as transport commissioner from J&K government. Mr Talib says he has no role in selecting which books are taught to the primary class students.
“We teach books recommended by Board of School Education to students of higher classes. However, for primary class students, there is a panel headed by the school principal which decides which book should be taught,” he said. Asked whether he had gone through the content of the books, he said: “I am a busy man. I don’t have time to do that.”
But the problem is of a bigger scale and it is not limited to one child or one school. I visited almost a dozen schools in south Kashmir to investigate this story. In another textbook series ‘Evershine English Reader’ by Delhi-based Evershine Publishers, the socio-cultural deviations in the books which are taught to the puerile minds of young children are starker and even obscene. In the ‘Evershine’ series, a majority of the characters used in the illustrations have names like Vishu Sharma, Avinash Gupta, Kavita, Tinki and Shweta, despite the fact that the children can’t identify with these names. The principles of classroom-teaching learnt by a qualified teacher in a B.Ed course obligate him to lead students from simple to complex, known to unknown, near to far and concrete to abstract.
But these principles are brazenly violated in the sample of books lifted from almost a dozen schools in south Kashmir. The characterization of Muslims in these books is distasteful and may come across as offensive for many people. Consider this: a Muslim character is always associated with downtrodden professions in both ‘Evershine’ and ‘Impressive’ series of textbooks. In an English textbook for class 1st students, there is a chapter named ‘Our Helpers’ in which Juned (sic) is a barber, Ali is a mason and Akram is a tailor but Amit is an engineer, Ankita is a doctor and Prashant is a policeman. Then there are chapters on mythical Hindu chronicles ranging from the virtues of Lord Vishnu to the importance of Onam festival while the Muslims festival or Id is mentioned in a passing reference.
Mr Sofi didn’t want his son’s thought process to get infected by adulterated information. “Answering his question was necessary, otherwise it would have created a conflict in his mind. Education helps a child in growing mentally as well as intellectually. But here, his religion, cultural values and social beliefs were being violated to influence his thinking. I went through his other books and found a number of similar flaws. I talked to the school management who took up another series of textbooks but it too has serious issues,” he said.
The office of Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education, the regulatory body of school education, is located near Baramulla-Srinagar highway on the outskirts of Srinagar city. The board is presently headless with Hridesh Kumar, the State’s secretary of school education, acting as its in-charge. Repeated attempts to meet him didn’t fructify and his phone was switched off. The ‘mission’ of the board declared on its website is to ‘achieve excellence in the development and implementation of academic plan for the students studying up to higher secondary level in the state’. The board come under the directorate of school education which passes strictures from time to time in revising and implementing the guidelines for school education.
The office of the director of school education, Mir Tariq, is located at Barbar Shah near the historic SP College in Srinagar. On the first day when I called him on his phone to seek an appointment, he asked me to come over to his office. Once I reached there at around 1 pm, his personal assistant told me that ‘sir’ had left the office to attend an ‘important’ meeting. I tried to reach him on phone but he didn’t answer my calls. From then onwards, I made it sure to give him a phone call at least once or twice every day, but all my calls went unanswered. On the seventh day, I went straight to his office. His personal secretary didn’t let me in initially but asked me to come after 2 pm. I had to wait for two more hours. There was nothing I could do more to speed up the time of appointment than to wait.
At the appointed time, the secretary led me into a finely furnished office overlooking a small manicured garden. Mr Tariq, a clean-shaven, round-faced man with a thick moustache, is slouched into a revolving chair which he swirls from one side to another. His bureaucratic style of speaking is hard to miss. I handed over a couple of flawed textbooks to him. After reading the books, Mr Tariq admitted that the books had ‘serious flaws’ and he insisted on revealing the names of schools where these books are taught. When he was asked whether the board had any internal mechanism to monitor the textbooks taught at various schools, he said such a mechanism didn’t exist. “But I will order an inquiry and if what you are telling me is true and these books are taught to students, we will definitely take action against the schools,” he said.
The matter of formulating syllabi for schools is handled by Subject/Courses Committee of the Board of School Education (BOSE). A senior board official who didn’t wish to be named said that all the private schools are directed to teach textbooks published by National Council for Educational and Training, or their ‘localized versions’ to the students.
“There is no specific series of books that is recommended by board for primary class students. Up to class 7th, the private schools are left at their discretion to decide which books should be taught while from class 8th to class 12th, the board has made NCERT books mandatory for all schools recognized by it. All the private schools have been asked to adopt only those books for primary classes which reflect and respect the social and cultural sensibilities of the place,” he said.
However, Authint Mail learnt that in most of the cases, the private schools go out of way and select their own textbooks which may or may not fit into the socio-cultural milieu of Kashmir. With no regulatory body to check the ‘adulteration’ of education, the problem has persisted and remained unnoticed. “To show another community or religion as developed and the other it’s opposite, is a deliberate attempt to malign a particular community. When a child is consistently and regularly taught that people of one religion are associated with a noble profession while others are downtrodden, this is a deliberate propaganda and not education. It is an attempt to dehumanize a particular community, a sort of Blacks-in-America type picture being projected,” PG Rasool, a prominent citizen and a newspaper columnist with daily said.
He demanded that the board should monitor what type of books are taught in schools and if someone has done a mischief, he should be identified and punished. “It seems to be an anti-intellectual campaign against the people of Kashmir. When the State wasted no time in curbing anti-State projections in textbooks, how can they allow anti-people campaign?” he asked.
Mr Rasool was referring to an Urdu textbook “” prescribed in 2011 by the State’s education department in which the picture of a uniformed man with a stick in his hand was used to depict a ‘ ’ (tyrant). The department of school education banned the book and withdrew all its copies from the market following objections by the security agencies, and the BOSE chairman was booked for sedition.
However, the distasteful characterization of a particular community has remained unnoticed with subject experts and academicians describing it as ‘manipulation’ and ‘indoctrination’ of children at a young age. Noted academician Dr AG Madhosh said the government must be held accountable for what is being taught in schools. “In absence of any guidelines, such a distasteful characterization will seep into the vulnerable minds of children and affect their thought process. The government must investigate the matter,” he said.
A source in the BOSE said there are no specific guidelines from the government to private schools as to which books or syllabi should be taught. “BOSE prepare syllabi for classes up to 12th and prescribes texts for all the schools of the state registered with the department of school education. It has been made mandatory for the private schools to adopt these books in their curriculum only after which a certificate of registration is issued to them,” he said.
A top official in education department said the BOSE even sends inspection teams headed by concerned chief education officer of a district to private schools from time to time to check whether they follow the prescribed texts and, in case of any violation, ensure that only BOSE-certified NCERT books are taught to students.
“Unfortunately the teams are often deceived or even bribed by private schools on the day of inspection. In many cases, the BOSE officials alert the target school a day prior to inspection so as to give them time to be prepared to face the inspection team. Once the team leaves, they revert to their own books,” the official said. I tried to get the reaction of J&K’s deputy CM and school education minister Tara Chand but he didn’t answer repeated phone calls on his mobile.
At his single-storied Wahigub home in south Kashmir, Mr Sofi says the parents need to be careful in ensuring that their children are not exposed to mischievous ideas which can affect their thought process, “Today’s children face a bombardment of information from all sides. Parents and teachers have a role to guide the children in picking up only relevant information which will add meaning to their intellectual growth, not that which uproots them from their socio-cultural moorings and value systems,” he says.