Millennium Post

The fun of learning

Cartoons are back in news. After the brouhaha over the Ambedkar cartoon in the NCERT books which raised a few heckles about freedom of expression and identity politics, a six-member panel was appointed by union HRD minister Kapil Sibal to examine the content of NCERT's senior secondary textbooks. The panel in its report submitted on Thursday has recommended that about 10 'inappropriate' cartoons in the book should be deleted, those cartoons whose captions seem to be laced with negative implications should be done away with and, in cases where necessary, the text must be modified to suit the tenor, tone and scope of a book meant for study by school students. The changes recommended by the panel are scheduled to come into effect in the current academic session.

The recommendations of the panel, headed by ICSSR chairman SK Thorat, will no doubt vindicate the voice of those who had raised the heckles about the six decade old cartoon by Sankar that was accused of defaming Ambedkar. The matter became controversial after the protesting MPs were accused of blowing out of proportion an issue that was long buried in history and indeed more so when the target of ridicule in the cartoon was not Ambedkar but the snail’s pace of writing India’s Constitution, a process in which Ambedkar was involved wholeheartedly.

Some other factors too came into play. For some, the question was of freedom of expression of the artiste. For some it was about realising that cartoons by nature are politically incorrect and should be taken only for their face value and not for any intrinsic cultural or social implication. However the question remains if those cartoons ought to be included in school textbooks. Students and adolescents have impressionable minds and experts doubt that unless the context of politically sensitive cartoons are made very clear, the students might take home disagreeable impressions about honourable political figures. It is probably keeping in mind these factors that the Thorat panel has proposed the removal of the cartoons.

Thorat panel report will surely take away some of the sting of the opposition voices but the debate will and should continue about the scope and reach of cartoons as an effective and necessary means of political critique.

What is also to be noted is that besides the signature cartoons of cartoonists, the panel has also proposed some modifications to those involving Chunni and Munni – two cartoon characters who serve pedagogic purpose in the book. This too may be questionable recommendation. Globally visual methods are becoming popular for pedagogic use and the NCERT was following contemporary methodology to make reading and learning fun. If that needs to be changed, then it needs to be done with care and consideration so that the original purpose of their inclusion in the book is not defeated.
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