Day One-The Idea of India

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Day 1: 15 August 2017

The first day of the conference began mid-morning in Tollygunge Club. Teachers from various schools across India were in attendance , participating keenly in the various sessions of the day.

Naveen Kishore, the Managing Trustee of The Seagull Foundation for the Arts, addressed the gathering with a few opening remarks. He discussed the idea of peace, and the ‘difficulty of being good’ in troubled times. His conversation was replete with current references, which made the importance of holding such a conference even more apparent. He ended by speaking about Late Professor Kozo Yamamura, a professor of Economics, author and supporter of the work done by PeaceWorks and Seagull, dedicating the conference in his memory.

Shortly after, the first talk of the day began. Romila Thapar entered into a discussion with Alok Mathur, Amita Prasad and Tina Servaia, all of who are experienced educators. They engaged with various topics, including the complexity of using history as a method to inculcate peace, the importance of building questioning skills in students, use of technology to teach history and entwining history and current events. The discussion broke into some questions by the audience, as they tried to draw links between caste and religion, as well as history teaching in light of the current education system.

After lunch, the second session began, titled ‘History Textbooks and the Idea of India’, in which Krishna Kumar, Hari Vasudevan, Manish Jain and Shireen Maswood spoke about the evolution of history curricula in India, textbooks of Indian history, and the location of pedagogy in transacting with the syllabus and the classroom. By looking at language, the emphasis on written texts, the treatment of the textbook as fact, administrative and state intervention, and the various boards, the educators tussled with various practical complexities of teaching. Manish Jain, Assistant Professor, Ambedkar University Delhi, began the session by setting the context for the discussions to follow- mentioning various engagements with history textbook writing, the contestations of the idea of India in history and the power of the state with respect to using textbooks as tools for propaganda. Hari Vasudevan, Professor, University of Calcutta, discussed the history textbook and its evolution in the context of the Indian nation. Shireen Maswood, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Calcutta, specifically looked at the West Bengal Board and its curricula, and tried to construct a history for the audience. Krishna Kumar, Honorary Professor of Education, Punjab University, discussed three aspects—the question of peace in relation to the teaching of history, the role of the nation and the states and the need for a dialogue between the historian and the child psychologist—particularly in terms of how one addresses the child: as a learner or as an audience. The session elicited questions from educators about balancing the syllabus and current events as well as comments about how the educator is referred to in terms of skill and education in terms of skill sets, ending with a short tea break.

The third session was a Q&A between the panelists and the audience. Here, the focus was on what is not included in history textbooks, and what the deliberate silencing of certain issues means. By challenging the ‘history is a dying subject’ narrative, looking at skill sets of historical enquiry, and including other disciplines into history, the audience and the panelists reached a better understanding for history teaching. At a teaching conference, this was integral: as Romila Thapar remarked earlier in the day, it was imperative ‘that historians and history teachers met, and bridged the gap’ between applying history and teaching it. After a short presentation by Michael Robinson, a member of the Facing Histories and Ourselves team, EUROCLIO on negotiating with conflicted histories, particularly in South Africa, the day drew to a close.

Anushka Halder and Stuti Pachisia

For more details of the speakers, click here.