Thursday, August 10, 2017

History Textbooks Revamped but Assessment?

It has become pretty fashionable to pick a textbook and find loopholes in it and get viral over its effects. 
Lately, the History Textbooks of Grade 7th and Grade 9th of Maharashtra State Board are under scrutiny and critical cynosure. 
Why? One may well ask! There have been changes in content. The Mughal Regimes and Sultanate Regimes have been Deleted and prominence given to Local Heroes and movements. 
In 9th Grade, emphasis is on post Independence movements and changes. 
One sees Glorification of one section and Relegates other sections into anonymity. 
The outcry is that such changes are sowing Divisive Tendencies through books in the minds of Children. 
The Children! 
Do the textbook makers ever give attention to the plight of the Children? Frankly, I as a Teacher, see the children saddled and burdened with the same assessment patterns that has been a source of Nightmare for them ever since History was introduced into their Curriculum. 
Let us take a look at a typical Assessment format of "History" papers. 
We have Fill in the blanks & Name the following amounting to remembering exact details like the year a certain King died to a certain ruler who made a certain city or monument or fought a war and won. 
One alphabet here and there and a mark is lost! If Shahaji is spelled Shahji, they definitely will get it wrong and Yes there is a monumental difference. Just an "a" missing changes meaning. Talk of Divisive tendencies!!! My kids scratch heads, bewildered, they sigh! 
"Miss, one alphabet I forgot and I lost a mark!" "Hmmm!" 
Then we have Historical reasons. Explaining why a certain event happened. "So and so king was defeated" "League of nations failed" which runs into meticulous and long sentences. 
Then there are Short answers which are anything but short. The amount of content has the eyes of kids rolling. "So muchhhhh!" 
Next question which I am so so used to "What difference does it make? If League of nations failed, it failed why are we supposed to mug up such long answers?"
"Effects of Cold War" has children jesting "Trembling minds, waste of time memorising exact words, less marks, shivering nights." 
Now as a Teacher in my initial years, I lectured that it was an important aspect of our life and we must know it. Taking a compassionate view however on the impact it had on their psyche, I stopped doing that and encouraging them to do their best. Some of them even had fevers before the History exams. 
Pick a seventh Grader or ninth Grader and ask them the difference between Communalism and Communism. They might recite the exact definition but ask them what it actually means!Chances are you will get a blank stare. I have spent Considerable amount of time in the company of kids from Grade five to ten. Their Retention for Historical facts is as long as the tests last. They would like to relegate to anonymity this particular long exercise in futility somewhere back in the mind as necessary and fatigue inducing. 
Where in the world will the divisive tendencies have a place in their minds when their conscious mind does not even focus on the matter? All their concentration is on simply getting on with it. 
Concepts like "Freedom of Speech" has them asking me "Miss, Can we have freedom of leaving this subject?" 
I have seen three varieties of students. Smart ones who have superb memorising skills. 
They mug up the answers
The average kind who pick and choose what will get them to get a decent score leaving few answers here and there! 
The not so smart ones! They give up and accept below average or failing marks. They just cannot remember. 
In all this, let us ask where in kids mind it matters which part was added or deleted? Whatever happened their Life still revolves around mugging up answers which have no relevance to them! If majority of students are given a choice they (many of them) would like the whole subject to disappear! This ain't my opinion. Just a long standing observation of Children over the years.
The brief answers &  Give Historical Reasons have them dizzy in the head and some trembles in the spine. 
If anyone sensible ever gets around to asking the students, they would want that the Government  should rethink the assesing of History tests. No matter what they add or Delete the brief answers remain "not brief" but looonnnnng! 
Short Answers are not so short! 
Verbatim details to be produced. 
Hilarious moments arise when children of tenth Grade forget the year India got Independence. They know the date for it is a Holiday but year???!!! 
They do not know the difference between Republic and Independence day. 
Do quiz your kids to know how much of what they mug up they actually understand. 
One alphabet here and there and they lose marks in fill ups &  Name the followings. 
Smart ones Mug up. 
Average ones drag on.
Not so smart just "Give up" today. Their angst and dilemmas do not change with changing textbooks. 
I would have welcomed if the students got a chance to do away with these long winding answers and rather give their interpretation of various events as they understood it. If they commented with understanding of how they would have avoided an Alexander from entering India. The role of Ruler of Ambhi and Deception therein may well merit discussion on treachery and its results. They could have reflected on formation of United Nations, its subsequent rule of Self determination and stance of Anti Colonisation bringing an end to Imperialist era, it would add so much to understanding world politics and its ramifications. 
Instead  children scratch heads on who led the White Revolution and Green Revolution. In the light of effects of milk, vegan movement and effects of pesticides on vegetal world, they may well question if it was all worth it! According to them, it exists in textbooks and villages. 
Makers of curriculum may well benefit if the textbooks change narratives to discussions  instead of only informing facts. Assess in a way that allows children some modus of control than the utter helplessness, they feel when they have to mug up long answers which lose their meaning in the process of retaining,till they can purge in the answer sheets. Forget all about it in the next hour while mobile game beckons or a friend calls out for a walk. 
They do not ever discuss historical details or their results therein. If at all they do question
"What is the use? Why do we have to remember this? "
I request Makers of Syllabus
Give a thought to Changing assessment patterns and making it student centric. Adding or Deleting will not affect their psyche. 
A child absorbs the political ideology from family ideology and not textbooks! Not definitely at the tender age when the only aim is "Exam marks".
When every single detail is to be delivered as it appears in textbooks, the focus beams on mechanical act of remembering during exams and not remembering for a reference while dealing with friends of various faiths.

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