|History textbooks: Beware
We are happy the government is working to reintroduce history in schools. The steps have to be examined with extreme care, lest we should face worse situations; through manoeuvres of people working their own agenda. Some, sensing the commercial potential, propose textbook solutions. Bureaucrats, some educationists and booksellers often collaborate, neglecting the personality building aspects of liberal education.
Our pre-independence writers produced literature with a didactic purpose. A wealth of literature remains, as monuments to our cultural heritage. Foreign scholars too contributed to this store of knowledge, mostly in English. Around the year 1950 our literacy rate was 95 percent, next only to Japan among Asians. We fear the rate is declining. Less than 5 percent know English.
Todays scholars bear the sacred responsibility wielded by our predecessors, in building the nation. Our monarchs, though pre-occupied with political problems did not neglect the promotion of literature and the arts.
We note painfully, the errors and distortions that fill the officially produced textbooks, pinpointed in newspapers. It is time that we adopted quick remedial measures. Perhaps we have to start with educating our educators!
On subjects like science and mathematics textbooks are essential. However, whether history could be packaged in textbooks is doubtful. It is a growing subject, depending on various conditions - social setting, location, era, dialect etc.
What is relevant today may not be so one month hence.
To make history meaningful, we should produce teachers possessing broad vision, instead of the fine-focus, from one end or discipline. Hence textbooks are likely to discourage the emergence of intelligent teachers with wide vision. Good teachers guide students to develop an inquiring mind, question tradition, and suggest better alternatives. The need today is to produce good teachers and not more and more books. The wealth of books we already have must reach the common man, in his language. The young and the old must be helped to exercise their minds, like giving a fishing rod to the poor and not just the fish. Good general reading material, to be freely chosen, should be available to meet the high demand for English. Our academics should ensure the correct balance between English and the vernaculars. Today, entry points to English are jealously and surreptitiously guarded: as proved by the declining literacy rate and the exclusive use of English in some reputed associations.
Several professional bodies, set up by Acts of Parliament for the spread of knowledge are in place. Donations flow in. Strangely, they work in English. They have monthly lectures. Yet, the subjects seldom relate to the burning topics of the day, 95 percent lectures are in English, the audience around 15, lectures start at 5.00 p.m. when only chauffeur-driven intellectuals could participate. Hence those thirsting for knowledge and the intended beneficiaries are dissuaded. However Annual Reports describe success stories of lecture programmes.
Teaching of English to people outside Colombo has to be taken up too, to correct imbalances in social progress. Resources of State and NGOO dry up within city limits and in the luxurious offices located away from the beneficiaries.
We have not thought of crash programmes to spread English. The British Council conducts
useful courses but they too do not reach the low income groups. The responsibility of
carrying the torch of learning lies with our academics to open their talent, presently
locked behind the walls of the English Language.
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