Questionable G11 Text Book Causes Furore
By Methmalie Dissanayake
A school textbook published by the Ministry of Education blaming rape victims since 2015, which had gone unnoticed for five whole years, became a hot topic on social media this week.
Many, including Lawyer and Human Rights Activist Aritha Wickramasinghe, who shared several captures of the Grade 11 Health and Physical Education textbook’s pages on his Facebook profile expressed their horror and disbelief over the text merely labelling rapists as people with ‘mental illness’ or ‘very irresponsible.’
The English-medium textbook covers trauma and social disturbances caused by unwanted pregnancies from page 181 to 182, stating:
“Some girls have unwanted pregnancies due to their poor sexual education and by acting out their feelings instead of rational thinking. Boys who become fathers due to sexual liaisons at an inappropriate age face psychological and social problems. Rape is a cause of unwanted pregnancy. Perpetrators of rape can be mentally ill or behave very irresponsible. However irresponsible behaviour of victims too can play a role in some instances.
“Some problems can be isolation from society, early termination of education, menial jobs, fear, uncertainty about you and your child's future, early and forced marriages leading to despair, unhappiness and possible divorce. A baby born under such circumstances might be malnourished and may even die at an early age. The society may consider such children as illegitimate and marginalise them,” the textbook states.
Expressing his disbelief Wickramasinghe stressed,
“According to this, the biggest thing which rape victims should worry about is having an ‘unwanted pregnancy’ because that will make the victim a social pariah. She will have to stop studying, her child maybe malnourished and die or worse, she may get into an unhappy marriage and divorce! Not a single line on teaching girls and boys about consent. Not a single line on teaching boys to respect girls and to not rape. This is all about victim shaming and blaming. The rapist is merely someone who is irresponsible. This is what our schools are teaching our children.
This is rape culture. This is where it starts. This has to stop.”
Differences between Sinhala-Medium and English-Medium text books
However, the Sinhala Medium textbook used different words to describe the same topic. It listed ‘sexual abuse’ as one of the reasons behind unwanted pregnancies, but does not state victims of sexual abuse are responsible for the heinous crime like the English-medium book does.
It also states, “Due to lack of sexuality education and being unable to control their feelings, young girls have gone through unwanted pregnancies. The boys who are involved in unwanted sexual relationships and cause pregnancies have to face mental and social trauma. Apart from these, unwanted pregnancies can happen when someone not taking precautions for their safety, irresponsible behaviour of some persons in the society and being subjected to sexual abuse.”
Therefore, it could be assumed that, when translating this part into English, the translators have not understood the context of the Sinhala version. The normal procedure in developing textbooks is translating the Sinhala or Tamil text to English. It should be questioned why the authorities have failed to recruit qualified translators to do the crucial job on which the future of our children and the country depends.
Additionally, it is highly questionable as to why anyone responsible failed to note this in the English textbook, or is it because the authorities too believe that victim should be held responsible for sexual abuses so they did not find the claim in the textbook unacceptable?
It also raises the question as to how many errors and misconceptions like this are in school textbooks?
Even though, the Ministers and other State authorities are quick to respond to concerns raised on social media regarding their work, it is sad that none are bothered to clarify this matter.
Another concern is both the textbooks have failed to highlight the important of ‘consent’ and mental trauma experienced by sex abused victims. Instead of explaining and discussing in depth of these importance elements which students should be aware of, the textbooks simply claims that irresponsible behaviours cause unwanted pregnancies. Isn’t it the educational authorities’ job to give knowledge to students regarding the ‘responsible behaviour?’
Moreover, in 2019 a proposal was approved to remove the marital status of parents in birth certificates to avoid mental trauma of children born out of wedlock. These children are labelled as ‘illegitimate’ (awajathaka) by society and this unfair label affects their entire lives. To gradually remove this stigma from society, it was decided to remove the marital status of parents from birth certificates. In such context, a school textbook claiming that ‘the society may consider such children (children born from unwanted pregnancies) as illegitimate and marginalise them’ to further stigmatise young adults, is unacceptable.
When contacted by Ceylon Today, Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of Ceylon Teachers’ Union alleged that many school textbook writers do not have a proper knowledge about what they write as they follow different disciplines.
“Not just this one, there are many textbooks which have many errors in them. Although, actions should be taken against the writers and others who are responsible for school textbooks, nothing has happened with regard to that,” he stressed.
Attempts to contact the Education Ministry Secretary and the Director General of National Education Institute (NEI), which is responsible for developing school textbooks several times, for a comment, were unsuccessful.
Rape culture and victim-blaming
It’s very common in Sri Lankan society to blame the victim of sexual violence. When a woman is sexually assaulted, many tend to say that ‘she asked for it,’ ‘her dress is not decent,’ ‘she shouldn’t have gone out at that hour’ etc. Many do not know the meaning of ‘consent’ regarding sexual activities. Rape is also used as a tool to suppress women and girls.
Being subjected to sexual abuse is not uncommon among men and young boys. However, the subject is always swept under the carpet and there is not much discussion about it. When a boy is subjected to sexual violence he may be labelled ‘not manly enough’ etc.
Victims of sexual abuse have to bear the never ending trauma for their entire lives due to victim-blaming culture. Their own families force them to stay silent and bear the trauma due to this ludicrous culture where the victim becomes the responsible party for the crime.
The education system has to play a vital role to change these perspectives and end the social stigma. But when the education system fails to deliver that duty, how can we assure a safe future for the country?
Quality of school textbooks and education
A research article published on 2017 titled Sexism in ESL textbooks in Sri Lanka: A case study of the G.C.E. O/L textbooks, authored by L.M.S Wijetunge, stated that there are clear demarcations of sexism in the texts analysed, with males being given a dominating, powerful and central role while females were relegated to a secondary supportive role.
“The textbooks provided by the Government of Sri Lanka for grades 9, 10 and 11 were analysed to identify whether the content was sexist or not. It was discovered that the visibility of both genders was not equal and that males were twice as visible as females. Males were presented with a larger range of occupational roles, where the father was a key figure in the text. Men were featured as more active, knowledgeable and smart while females were relegated to a secondary, passive role. This secondary role of females was further stabilised by the high frequency of male fitness. However, the texts attempted to keep away from male generic pronoun which could be identified as a step in the correct direction.”
The author pointed out, “It was also identified that representation of female role models was inadequate and severely out of date. This trend could have a grave impact in terms of creating the next generation of Sri Lanka as the exposure provided to learners does not expose them to a more gender-sensitive society.”
Furthermore, in 2016, Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda and Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding the quality of the NEI top leadership.
The letter said,“One of the vital functions of the NEI is to prepare and revise from time to time the school syllabi and teachers’ guides. As members of the Council, we drew the attention of Acting DG to numerous mistakes, errors and inadequacies in many syllabi and teachers’ guides in the quality of content, philosophical and pedagogical orientation, language and proofreading (including spelling and punctuation marks!), and contemporary relevance. The NEI’s willingness to acknowledge and respond to our efforts has been slow and lukewarm.”
They warned that without making some significant revisions to the syllabi, teachers’ guides and eventually textbooks as well, the NEI can no longer serve the interests of Sri Lanka’s school education sector.
“Two very important functions of the NEI are preparing and updating/revising of school syllabi and the preparation and printing of teachers’ guides.
“With regard to these functions, we have observed the following serious shortcomings: most of the syllabi and teachers’ guides – we are competent to comment only on material relating to non-science subjects – need fundamental revisions in order to update their objectives, orientations, content and outcomes; most of the syllabi and teachers’ guides — particularly in the fields of social studies, political science, history, religious education, and literature – need their content adjusted to reflect the needs of the multi-ethnic and pluralistic character of Sri Lankan society; and preparation, revision and updating of syllabi and teachers’ guides are controlled by groups within and outside the NEI with vested interests; they have successfully resisted any serious and innovative re-thinking; our observation is that these vital functions of the NEI are driven primarily by the limited perspectives and narrow agendas of these vested interests, some of which are located at the NEI itself.”
It was not reported that the former Government ever took actions to address these concerns.
On one hand, Sri Lankan society appears preoccupied about what children are exposed to. The planned distribution of a school textbook on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) titled Hathe Ape Potha in 2019 was largely scrutinised because it was not seen as compatible with the local culture.
On the other hand, we have an education system, which is supposed to produce responsible and knowledgeable citizens, apparently promoting sexual violence and victim-blaming.
But it is sad that none who demanded banning Hathe Ape Potha demand to correct the misconceptions in existing school textbooks.