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Science-n-Sanskrit leaves teachers and students gawping

Curriculum Development

Bangalore Mirror


By:Sridhar Vivan

The ninth standard Science textbook for 2013 is an unabashed cocktail of Sanskrit passages, bloopers and mythology

Consider a classroom scene, replicated in schools across the state, where the teacher is explaining the functions of the heart. He is lucid enough in the telling till he comes to a passage which would make a typical Bangalore pothole look like a minor hazard. He takes a deep breath and proceeds: “In Sangeetha Rathnakara, our ancients have mentioned about the blood circulation as…as …Dharmanyo rakthavaahinyahchathuvishathirithaha, Kulyabhiriva Kedharasthaabhidehobhivardhate (Sangeeta Ratnakara 2.105).” As he regains his breath, a student gets up to ask what the super-long enunciation was all about. The teacher, expectedly, has no answer. The book in question: the revised ninth standard Science textbook for 2013.

Dr G P Padmanabha, principal of Ramana Vidyaniketan, member of the Centre for Research, Development and Training in Education, and a Science teacher for the past two decades, points out that teachers across the state are in a fix as the textbook is not just dotted with Sanskrit verses but has errors aplenty.

Pointing to a verse, in a chapter on elasticity, that reads: “Ye ghana nibidaaha avayavasanniveshaaha thaihi vishishteshu sparvastu dravyeshu varthamaanaha sthithisthapakaha swashrayamanyatha kathamavanamitham yathaavath sthapaayathi purvavadrujuh karothi,” he told Bangalore Mirror, “I met a Sanskrit scholar to throw some light on it, but even he could not figure it out. If that’s the case, how will we or our students know what it is about?”

Coming to the errors, in one diagram the uterus is marked ‘ovary’, while elsewhere the fallopian tubes and the cervix are confused for each other. Padmanabha recounted another embarrassing moment when he read out a passage that goes: “The female reproductive system is found in the woman.” He said, “The moment I read it out, a young smart alec got up and said, ‘Oh sir, is it so, we did not know that it is only in a woman; till now we thought even men had a female reproductive system.'”

Consider some other examples of bloopers. A passage on cockroaches reads: “Malpighian tubules of the cockroach are fine hair-like structures arising from the alimentary canal.” Padmanabha said it should have been “hindgut of the alimentary canal”, as the alimentary canal extends from the mouth to the anus.

The excretion process is described as “elimination of poisonous nitrogenous wastes”, whereas it should have been ‘metabolic’, not poisonous, waste. Then again, the textbook describes the kidney as bean-shaped and about 10 cm long, but students themselves wonder why the width and thickness of the organ are not mentioned.

Dr Prakash BS, professor of anatomy in a city college, noted, “A chapter on the heart says the upper chambers are called auricles. But it should be atrium as the auricle is a part of the atrium. It is essential to be specific as we are teaching ninth standard students.”

The piece de resistance is a passage in the chapter on Reproduction, titled “Test-tube babies in ancient India”, which goes: “When one day Bharadwaja went to the Ganges for a bath, he saw a beautiful apsara named Ghritachi. He was overcome by desire, causing him to ejaculate. Bharadwaja captured the fluid in earthen pot, from which Drona was born.” Fortunately, no ‘Activity’ is prescribed nearabouts the passage, but Padmanabha is pretty certain he could hear his class whispering wickedly whether they could perform a Bharadwaja-like experiment!

Not just the Science textbook, in the ninth standard Kannada textbook Bheem has been described as the ‘middle Pandava’ whereas it should have been Arjuna.

Contacted by BM, an unfazed Prof G S Mudambaditaya, chief co-ordinator for curriculum revision and textbook preparation, said, “Reading Sanskrit should not be a problem as every student in Karnataka would be studying a third language, which would be either Hindi or Sanskrit. Moreover, if you cannot read it, it is for the simple reason that you have not been used to read such verses for the last 67 years. So, let us make a beginning from now.”

On the ‘first test-tube baby’, he said, “It is clear from the National Curriculum Framework 2005 that textbooks are not just for exams but for knowledge enhancement; hence, we have included this additional information for the knowledge of students.” When he was asked about the errors in the Science textbook, he said, “If there are errors, let them be brought to our notice and we will rectify them. Instead of going to the media, it is time people who criticise the textbook came for a debate.”

When contacted, one of the members of the textbook preparation panel said he had no clue how the Sanskrit passages had found their way into the book.

D Shashi Kumar, organising secretary, Federation of Unorganised Schools in Karnataka, said, “Due to these errors in textbooks, we face a dilemma — whether to teach the wrong things for students to score marks or the right things, in which case marks will be cut (as exam evaluation is based on the textbooks).”

Chandan Raju, a ninth standard student, said, “It is not a science textbook but a tonguetwister of a book. When one of my teachers pointed out to a factual mistake in a paragraph, I asked whether I need to write a factual answer in the exam or a wrong answer as printed in the textbook. My teacher was as clueless as I was.”

A chapter on the heart says the upper chambers are called auricles. It is essential to be specific as we are teaching ninth standard students DR PRAKASH BS, PROFESSOR OF ANATOMY


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