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My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 1:29am

Textbook example of a global problem

The fight over what textbooks to use in schools - which is at the bottom of our acrimonious row over national education - is a near universal condition. At least that's the impression you get from reading an excellent survey of textbook rows around the world in The Economist magazine.

I don't know whether that should offer solace or merely pique our curiosity. But at least our beleaguered officials from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying down can take comfort in the fact they are not alone - governments the world over face serious problems, even political crises and international incidents, over the contents of textbooks, or subjects that are missing from them.

This is to be expected. Rulers, parents and educators all want to impart their own views and values on the next generation; but my truth is your propaganda. And children are rarely born readers, so textbooks often become their most serious reading material.

Christian South Koreans and Texans in the US fret about the exclusion of creationism in the teaching of evolutionary biology. New Yorkers complain there is not enough sex education, while the French, who have no issue in the sex department, apparently teach too much Marxist, or at least socialist, economics at the expense of (neo)liberal economics.

Americans put the highest diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia after September 11, 2001, to reform school curriculums that encouraged extremist fundamentalism. Riyadh said it has done so. But outside independent studies and those by the US State Department still find the same material in textbooks today.

Chinese and Koreans complain about the right-wing influence in the writing of history textbooks in Japan, which sanitise Japanese war crimes, including the use of sex slaves, in the 1930s and 1940s. Foreigners and dissidents cry foul over mainland textbooks that skip over the great famine during the Great Leap Forward and airbrush the brutal Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 and rampant official corruption during China's economic take-off.

What is the best model? The state should not be the sole authority to decide what to teach. But extreme decentralisation or a free-for-all model is a recipe for disputes. There is a middle ground, but it often proves elusive.


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This article is now closed to comments

it is no doubt that every party has its own concern and ideology. those party has also expanding nature striking to spread their ideas out to other various parties. education is their stronghold that secure an effective way of propoganda.
actually, this phenomenon not only exists with governments, religions and political parties, but also with every individual. parents would usually convey the meassages of their beliefs to their children and in no way would they let the little children disagree with themselves.
this is all human nature.
In this multi-facet complex world, there is no one single set of "truth". The issue is not in the textbook but the mindset to encourage students to look into sources presenting different viewpoints to let the young eventually to find out for himself. This is the essence of 'liberal" education, that one continues to seek answers throughout one's life time, appreciating that there are different and often opposing views. Life itself is a learning process! One good example may be that when we were young we were taught that the knights of the crusaders were saint-like, saving the world from the evil barbarians. Only in later life after much more readings we may begin to appreciate that many such knights were more like plundering marauders, invaders of foreign lands.
The white democratic nations also "interfered" by advocating freedom of expression, without which you and I wouldn't be exchanging opinions in an open forum like this. Dictator governments often avoid facing up to issues relating to the basic rights of their citizens by telling other nations of the world not to "interfere" with their "domestic" affairs. This is like seeing your neighbour beating up members of his/her family behind closed doors. Should we just stand back and do nothing or should we at least try telling them that such behaviour is wrong? Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that everything the white democratic nations did are correct. But we should not reject a good idea just because it is not our idea, nor should we allow dictator governments maintain their tyranny by simply rejecting these "interferences".
An excellent montage of global complaints about textbooks. Maybe Mr. Lo’s next piece should establish the taxonomy of complaints.
As a start, how about categorizing complaints into those minding their own education and those meddling in others? Don’t be surprised if you find it’s almost always white democratic nations among the latter.
But isn’t Chinese gripe about Japanese revision of history equally guilty? Not quite. Tens of millions Chinese perished from Japanese occupation.
Creationists complain about Darwin. Here is the motivation for further subdivision into science and faith -- those who don’t use facts, reason and logic to argue their cases.
Why should one stop here? What about a new category specializing in “education” based on undefined terms like democracy and human rights to argue for their ideologies? Our Scholarism students and those teachers coaching them behind the scenes definitely want to be included in this category.


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