10 July 2010

Textbooks and Cultural Heritage

Usually during lunch, I watch my favorite TV programs. One such is `Heritage Heroes’ telecast by BBC World on Saturdays. This afternoon’s episode featured local communities that have begun to renovate their ancient monuments or centuries old buildings. There were examples from Nepal (Kathmandu Valley), New Orleans and Saudi Arabia. Any person seeing the program will be impressed by the passion shared by these people in restoring their symbols of culture. (Next Sunday’s episode will include an old engine that is going to be re-used after a long time in Britain).

I think that it is very important for our young people to know about cultural traditions from different countries, in today’s context, where communication and travel have shrunk the world to a global village.  It is good that our children in India study cultural aspects of different countries in their social studies curriculum in school [I remember reading Greek and Roman Civilizations when I was a school boy way back in the `60s].  But then, it is more important for our youngsters to know about their own ancestors and how they lived.

This is exactly what Heritage Heroes and other such documentaries seem to aim at. I think that in India, we have reached a stage, when our youngsters need to watch NatGeo or Discovery to know about our cultural heritage. The main reasons for this odd state of affairs are our quantity oriented K-12 curricular materials and lack of time for today’s parents to interact with children. However, Indians in countries such as Trinidad and Tobogo, still strive hard to preserve culture and traditions alive, as evidenced in the following photograph taken from day before yesterday's edition of a Trinidad based newspaper:

A few years back when I had to give science teacher development workshops as part of my work at Macmillan India Limited, I used to ask the participants, “Have you seen a village craftsman who makes cartwheels? If you have seen them, do you know as to why they heat metal rims to red hot, plunge them in cold water for a moment, and then immediately fit them on to cart wheels?” From my experience I was convinced that none of the teachers (including those who were brought up in villages) had either seen a cartwheel maker or were able to respond to the second part of my question in reasonable detail. In other words, such wonderful crafts have vanished into oblivion even in villages, one of the `rewards’ that we reap due to technological development. (I nostalgically remember how my friends and I used to come across potters, cartwheel makers, groundnut oil extractors, weavers etc. at work, on our way back from school).

Government officials in Bhutan seem to reverse this odd trend, by encouraging local village craftsmen according to an article in Bhutan Observer.  I think it is a very good example to follow.

Our school curriculum and textbooks should guide children to `think globally and act locally’ by not losing grip on our rich cultural heritage and traditions.


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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.