How to improve historical thinking
Activists often assert that history is being distorted for political purposes.
Reforms in textbooks
- The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports, headed by Vinay P. Sahasrabuddhe, presented the ‘Reforms in Content and Design of School Textbooks’ to both Houses of Parliament on November 30, 2021.
- The circular by the Committee stated three objectives:
- Removing references to unhistorical facts and distortions about our national heroes from textbooks;
- Ensuring equal or proportionate references to all periods of Indian history;
- Highlighting the role of great historic women heroes;
- Post consultations, the Committee brought out 25 suggestions that related to improvement of engagement of children for learning.
- Content of the textbooks, representation of women in history during the Indian freedom struggle along with changing the way women are traditionally represented in textbooks.
- Use of EdTech in content delivery, promotion of scientific temper, innovation, communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.
- The report also focused on the need for textbooks to promote national integration, unity and constitutional values. While acknowledging the importance of the suggestions, it is equally important to observe the class and caste composition of the Committee and the fact that it did not have a single woman member.
Criticism of the Circular
- The critique of the existing textbooks implicit in the ‘Reforms’ being contemplated is not emerging from any expert body of nationally and internationally recognised historians but from a political position favoured by non-academic votaries of prejudice.
- The implicit critique is in fact the same as that argued in a Report brought out recently by the Public Policy Research Centre.
- This is reminiscent of the effort made in 2001-2002 to make deletions from existing NCERT textbooks and replace them with books written by those with chauvinistic and communal bias.
- The IHC release contested the three objectives of the circular by providing around 11 pages of tabular data detailing the distribution of content in existing history textbooks.
- The IHC continued School textbooks written for the NCERT by some of the tallest scholars in the country were actually removed, and in their place books with a clear sectarian, majoritarian bias were introduced in 2002.
What do historical thinking skills entail?
- To appropriately evaluate primary sources in the context of a specific period or era, historians, curators, researchers, archaeologists, and other professionals apply historical thinking or historical reasoning abilities.
- These skills include reasoning, analysis, and reading comprehension.
- The ability to think historically helps historians and academics create original descriptions of historical events or eras within a particular culture.
- Using historical thinking techniques, historians can also ascertain the origins, consequences, and current relevance of particular historical occurrences.
Queries to consider:
- Is it possible to reconstruct the past with exactness?
- Are there enough facts to support a causal inference?
- The past can be upheld in its fullness, but can it also be reinterpreted based on the frame through which we view it?
- Does studying history require a scientific method or is it just memorization of static information?
- To these questions, Professor Gary Nash and his associates provided answers. There might be some lessons to be learned from that.
Tools of historical thinking
- If the source of India’s sovereignty are the people of India, it is essential that citizens are equipped with tools of historical thinking in order to be able to effectively participate in a democracy.
- An analysis of the history textbooks across education boards shows that the engagement in historical thinking is abysmally low.
- There are various frameworks that have been proven to develop strong historical thinking such as the SCIM-C (Summarising, Contextualising, Inferring, Monitoring, and Corroborating) or ARCH (Assessment Center for History) or the Historical Thinking Standards articulated by Gary Nash et al.
- Students engaged in activities draw upon skills in five types of historical thinking: chronological thinking; historical comprehension; historical analysis and interpretation; historical research capabilities; historical issues — analysis and decision-making.
Perhaps, the Delhi government was wise when the Delhi Board of School Education signed an agreement with the International Baccalaureate to adopt the latter’s global curriculum framework in government schools.
- The history curriculum needs to be improved by other State boards as well. Even the poorest aspire for the best possible education.
- In December, the Madras Christian College in Chennai will host the 81st Indian History Congress, which will be closely monitored.