Textbooks and the Constitution

When the state sanctions textbooks that are politically partisan, historically false or communally inciteful, the citizen's right to education is violated. There have been many instances of such a violation in India. But there should be legal remedies available. A case study from a court ruling in the United Kingdom on the screening of Al Gore's film on climate change in schools.

CIVIL LIBERTIESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 19, 20089Textbooks and the ConstitutionA G NooraniThe right to education belongs to the citizen as a fundamental right. The state owes a corresponding duty to provide the citizen with the means and facilities for educating himself. This duty and the citizen’s right are breached if the state sanctions textbooks which are politically partisan, historically false or communally inciteful. Since inde-pendence we have suffered from all three in various parts of the country. Legal RemedyIn the late 1960s and the early 1970s the National Integration Council actively con-sidered the problem. Committeeswereset up. In the main, redress came through exposure in the media and protests by scholars and citizens. But there isalsoa legal remedy. Such textbooks violate the right to education.A judgment by justice Burton in the high court of justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Courts in the United Kingdom helps us a lot. It wasdeliveredonOctober 10, 2007 inStuart Dimmock vs Secretary of State for Education and Skills. A father of two sons made an applica-tion to declare unlawful a decision by the then secretary of state for education and skills to distribute to every state second-ary school in the United Kingdom a copy of formerUS vice-president Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth (AIT), as part of a pack containing four other short films and a cross-reference to an educational web site (“Teachernet”) containing a dedicated Guidance Note.Constitutional RightWe have no statute on the subject. But what the British statute lays down is part of our constitutional right to education. The context and nub of the dispute are the statutory provisions described in their sideheadings as respectively relating to “political indoctrination” and to the “duty to secure balanced treatment of political issues” in schools and contained in Sec-tions 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996. The provisions read as follows: 406. The local education authority, govern-ing body and head teachers shall forbid…the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school. 407. The local education authority, gov-erning body and head teacher shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to securethat where political issuesare brought to the attention of pupils while they are (a) in attendance at a maintained school, or(b) taking part in extra-curricular activi-ties which are provided or organised for reg-istered pupils at the school by or on behalf of the school, they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.The judge viewed the film which was part of Al Gore’s crusade to warn people against climate change induced by global warming. It was conceded by the govern-ment that though it was based on scientific research, “it is a political film, albeit of course not party political”. ‘Party Political’In British parlance “party political” implies just what it says. In contrast, “political” has a wider significance with no negative connotation. The steps Al Gore favoured had political implications in the realm of fiscal, investment, energy and foreign policies. Both sides argued their respective cases withfairness. The judgment is brief. It is writtenin simple English with none of the extravagant quotes and rhetorical flour-ishes so dear to our Supreme Court judges. (One of them has quoted the Urdu poet Firaq in a recent judgment heavily laden with florid rhetoric.) (The word “political” is discussed inMcGovern vsAG (1982), Ch 321 at 340.)Justice Burton considered the news releases issued by the government. Its case was that it was presenting, not promoting, a particular view. The judge observed, What is forbidden by the statute is, as the side heading makes clear, ‘political indoc-trination’. If a teacher uses the platform of a classroom to promote partisan political views in the teaching of any subject, then that would offend against the statute. If on the other hand a teacher, in the course of a school day and as part of the syllabus, presents to his pupils, no doubt, with the When the state sanctions textbooks that are politically partisan, historically false or communally inciteful, the citizen’s right to education is violated. There have been many instances of such a violation in India. But there should be legal remedies available. A case study from a court ruling in the United Kingdom on the screening of Al Gore’s film on climate change in schools.A G Noorani is a well known lawyer, scholar and political commentator.

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