The National Curriculum and Textbook Board’s (NCTB) much-hyped attempt at fixing the school textbooks criticised for their content may end in nothing, as board officials say they are not bringing any major changes to the books.
Faced with protests from cultural activists and secular groups, who deemed several changes brought to texts this year as a compromise to placate religious pressure groups, the government announced in April that an expert committee would be formed to recommend changes to 12 books.
But board officials now say that the committee was only tasked with correcting major errors and change language as necessary to make the texts clearer and more pleasant to read.
NCTB Member (Curriculum) Prof Moshiuzzaman said: “The committee has been asked only to refine the textbooks, identifying the grammatical and structural errors
“We have not changed anything and we have no plans yet to add anything in the process of NCTB. There are only corrections,” Prof Narayan Chandra Saha, the board chairman, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“The books were designed following the NCTB’s curriculum, and that curriculum has not changed yet,” he added.
The board and the Ministry of Education faced heavy criticism at the beginning of the year after they published textbooks with changes that closely mirror demands made by the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam. At the secondary level, 17 poems and stories were removed from the books with no explanation.
The specialist committee formed to examine the textbooks includes educationist Shyamoli Nasrin Chowdhury, Dhaka University Pro-Vice Chancellor Prof Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman, DU English department Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam, DU economics department Prof MM Akash. DU accounting department Prof Mizanur Rahman, former Chairperson of Dhaka Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board Taslima Begum, physicist Prof Muhammed Zafar Iqbal and Bangladesh University of Science and Technology (Buet) teacher Prof Mohammad Kaykobad.
Several members of the committee told the Dhaka Tribune that the committee had already completed its work. Each member was in charge of amending only the textbooks related to their respective fields.
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The Textbook Board faced criticism for putting ‘O’ for ‘Orna,” (scarf) instead of Ol (yam) in the class 1 Bangla textbook’s alphabet section Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
Economist Prof MM Akash said he expected that the committee would recommend restoring the poems and stories in the Bangla textbooks which had been removed over Hefazat’s demand. But when contacted, Shyamoli Nasreen Chowdhury, who was in charge of the Bangla textbooks, would not say what changes she had recommended.
“I have finished my work and sent my recommendations to the Education Ministry,” she said.
NCTB Member (Curriculum) Prof Moshiuzzaman said: “The committee has been asked only to refine the textbooks, identifying the grammatical and structural errors.
“Our own specialists will inspect the books after modification to see if there are any changes contrary to the curriculum.”
The board and the education ministry’s position has been that Hefazat’s demands have nothing to do with the changes made this year.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told the Dhaka Tribune that there were thousands of poems and stories in Bangla literature and it was not possible to include them all at a time in the textbooks.
“Many educationists demand that this or that piece be added to the textbooks, but we cannot accommodate all of them. But still we are trying,” Nahid said.
The NCTB chairman says there is no Hefazat connection in the textbook changes.
“NCTB does not consider the religious identity of writers while adding or omitting any content.
“Whenever we insert any text, we follow the continuity and the demands of the textbook curriculum,” he said.
Narayan added that the curriculum may be reviewed next year as five years have passed since the last change.
What these changes were
Humayun Azad’s poem ‘Boi’ was expunged from class 5 Bangla textbook while Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Bangladesher Hridoy’ and Wazed Ali’s travelogue ‘Rachi Bhromon’ were removed from the class 6 textbook.
Sharat Chandra Chattopaddhyay’s ‘Lalu’ was dropped from the class 7 textbook, and a small excerpt from Hindu Epic ‘Ramayana’ written for children by Upendrakishore Roy Chowdhury that was in the class 8 book is also gone.
In case of classes 9 and 10, some five poems ‘Shukher Lagiya’ written by classical poet Gyandas, ‘Amar Shontan’ by Bharatchandra Ray, ‘Shomoy Gele Shadhon Hobe Na’ by Sufi icon Lalon Shah, ‘Shwadhinata’ by Rangalal Bandopadhyay and ‘Shakota Dulchhe’ by Sunil Gangopadhyay were replaced by Muslim Bengali poet Shah Muhammad Sagir’s ‘Bondona’, medieval-age poets Alaol’s ‘Ham’d’ and Abdul Hakim’s ‘Bongobani’, poet Golam Mostafa’s ‘Jibon Binimoy’ and rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s ‘Umar Faruk’.
Dr Rasheda K Chowdhury, former adviser to a caretaker government and an academician, said that the conscience of the nation had been stung as unexpected changes came to textbooks following the demands of reactionary groups.
“We are still expecting changes in textbooks as educationists have taken responsibility. But they are only changing the textbooks for class 9 and 10, even though the problems have crept into the primary level textbooks as well.
“If provocative elements are in children’s textbooks, the government should remove them.”
Hefazat warns against changes
The leaders of Hefazat-e-Islam say that the only change made in the textbooks is that they have been restored to what they were before 2010.
The changes done after 2010 were communal in nature and were unacceptable to the public, Hefazat’s Central Joint Secretary General Mufti Faizullah told the Dhaka Tribune.
“As the country’s majority population is Muslim, the government should not offend their religious sentiments by putting communal elements in the textbooks,” he said.
“When a particular pattern of studies have been continuing for several decades, why should the government suddenly favour a particular community?” Faizullah asked.
“If the textbooks do not reflect the conscience, demands and sentiments of the majority people, we will launch a tough movement,” he warned.
Errors that may be fixed
This year’s textbooks were criticised for errors and nonsensical content in many places, including the picture of a goat climbing up a mango tree.
The board faced criticism for putting ‘O’ for ‘Orna,” (scarf) instead of Ol (yam) in the class 1 Bangla textbook’s alphabet section.
In the Bangla textbook for class 3, a poem of 12 lines by Kusumkumari Das – “Adarsha Chele” – appears in the textbook with jumbled lines, replaced words and spelling mistakes.
On the back of the Hindu Religion and Moral Education textbook printed for class 3, the customary moral message says “Do not heart anybody,” instead of “Do not hurt anybody.”
NCTB says they have already completed the necessary corrections in the primary level textbooks, and the books would be handed over to the students before next year.
“The manuscripts of these books have already been prepared,” Chairman Narayan Saha said.
“The children will get next year’s textbooks before January 1 and the books have been revised and corrected to make them ‘pleasant reading’ for the students,” NCTB Member (Textbook) Dr Mia Enamul Haque told the Dhaka Tribune.