Saturday, March 26, 2016

Out of Syllabus, Out of Mind!

Out of Syllabus, Out of Mind!

By Zubair Ahmed

Ask any student from Andaman and Nicobar Islands the location of Chowra or Teressa Island, and 90% would fail to answer the question. Ask them about Timbuktu or Congo, and it’s likely they will have all the details. The A&N islands are home to mountains, the sea, beaches, forests, plains and even tribal communities not found anywhere else, and yet, little of this is part of the school curriculum here.

This is not how it has always been. The British had, in fact, successfully introduced study of local geography in the islands in the early part of the 20th century itself: Jughrafia – Jazair Andaman o Nicobar, nicknamed Andaman ka Jughrafia, the geography text book written by Master Abdus Subhan in 1935 in Urdu for students of the 3rd standard.

Subhan explains in his preface of the book that the British had made the study of the geography of the islands compulsory in 1920 itself. There were no books available though there was no dearth of reports and data in English and teachers taught whatever they could, according to their own level of understanding. That was when Abdus Subhan embarked upon the onerous task of preparing a proper book for the students.

Though basically a book of geography, it gave quite a lucid idea of the state of affairs in those days. There is a short account of the history of the place - a few words about the aborted first settlement in 1789, the Battle of Aberdeen, assassination of Lord Mayo, and developmental works under various chief commissioners. The geography portion is quite exhaustive and covers both the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands. It covers all the aspects that a book on geography should cover including the land, people, communication, climate, rainfall, agricultural produce, occupation of the people, industrial establishment, trades, towns and villages. The efforts of Master Abdus Subhan, at a time when technological support was non-existent, and the initiative of the colonial administration were commendable to say the least.

In independent India, the idea kept germinating every now and then, but there has been no serious attempt even after 70 years to teach the Islanders about their own Islands. Though there are a number of books written for the tourists, no concerted effort has been made to prepare a curriculum to familiarize the children about their own surroundings. And whom then can we blame if the islanders are insensitive towards the vulnerable tribes or the fragile ecology?

And even if a few books are being prepared and finalized due to efforts of a few non-governmental organizations, the implementation remains entangled in bureaucratic red-tapism.
 Published in the latest issue of the Protected Area Update, April 2016