In February, the Central Board of Secondary Education was accused of acting as a PR agency for the Narendra Modi government when it decided to add to the admit cards of students appearing for their Class 10 and 12 board exams. But it wasn’t the first such move by the CBSE.
Since 2014, the CBSE, under the union education ministry, has repeatedly asked its affiliated schools to carry out activities, including essay competitions and quiz programmes, to raise awareness about key schemes and campaigns launched by the central government, according to an analysis of CBSE circulars by Newslaundry.
Of more than 1,300 circulars issued until this year, around 100 pertained to schemes and initiatives such as the , , , , , , , , , or even the launch of the .
Such a push at this scale was ostensibly missing in the years before 2014. The CBSE issued around 400 circulars from 2009 to 2013, but only around a dozen of them sought such awareness campaigns in schools, in collaboration with ministries or in an independent capacity.
Policy or PM?
A significant number of these 100 circulars hail the government’s performance.
“Under ‘Make in India’ initiative, and performance incentive link schemes India has received 385 billion USD investment in the last 8 years which means India is going to be a global manufacturing hub. Empowering 4 crore higher education students and recent graduates to access industry-aligned courses for skilling and upskilling is key for Aatmanirbhar Bharat,” stated a about a digital skilling event last year, suggesting that “this information” can be shared with teachers and students.
PM Modi, who has been accused of consistently increasing on events such as ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’ to target young voters, features in many of them.
“As you are aware that the idea of a sustained and structured cultural connect between people of different regions was mooted by Hon’ble Prime Minister of India during the Rashtriya Ekta Divas (31st October, 2015) on the occasion of birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to celebrate cultural diversity through mutual interaction and reciprocity between people of different States and UTs,” read a issued in 2021, asking schools to carry out around four activities on the programme annually, in coordination with the partner state or UT. It also asked that tweets about such activities be uploaded on social media with the hashtag #cbseebsb.
Another in the same year asked schools to encourage students to participate in a quiz on the MyGov portal and participate in programmes on the POSHAN Abhiyan (National Nutrition Mission). “As you are aware POSHAN Abhiyan (National Nutrition Mission) was launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister on 8th March, 2018. The Programme strives to reduce the level of stunting, under – nutrition, low birth weight in children and anemia in adolescent girls, pregnant women, lactating mothers as well as children,” it read.
This year, another asked schools to carry out activities for observance of a road safety week held under cleanliness campaign Swachhata Pakhwada. “The central government is aiming to reduce road accidents by 50% by the next 10 years… ‘Swachhata Pakhwada’ a concept inspired by Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision to engage all central government ministries and departments in swachhata related activities, thereby making swachhata everyone’s business.”
Another last year demanded that teachers, students and even parents participate in a plethora of fitness exercises and maintain a track of the same on the Fit India app, launched by the government in 2019. “The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India has launched the FIT India Movement on 29 August 2019 with a view to make Physical Fitness a way of life.”
Notably, none of the circulars in the period before 2014 – analysed by Newslaundry – mentioned either PM Manmohan Singh or a programme mooted by him.
Around 14 circulars of the total 400 issued between 2009 and 2014 spoke of activities at schools. And activities to popularise a government initiative were not entirely absent.
In 2010, when Delhi was hosting the Commonwealth Games, CBSE had principals to carry out programmes that “excite” children about the event. Under the Delhi government’s Shera Dost Programme, the circular had sought online and offline activities.
However, the other circulars had no mention of big ticket government schemes or campaigns.
For instance, circular, through which the ministry of power organised a painting competition in schools to sensitise children towards energy conservation. Or, after which an essay competition was organised by Dr Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
Campaigns such as the Ek Bharat Shreshth Bharat, Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav and Swachh Bharat have received the highest attention in circulars issued after 2014.
And in light of India’s G20 presidency, a new series of campaigns awaits around 30,000 schools affiliated to the CBSE across the country – around 23,000 of these are private institutes.
Dr Joseph Emmnuel, director of academics at the CBSE, said, “This year, almost every activity suggestion from the ministry of education will be centered around G20. So we have decided to dedicate the whole year to it. Awareness for G20 is being conducted at a massive scale. It is a proud moment for India. Children should be aware of our country’s role in international politics and how it is going to benefit the country.”
He claimed that integrating such activities with academics is a new format which will help students learn about “contemporary issues”.
In , the board had issued the first circular asking schools to educate students about India’s G20 presidency. And so far, it has issued at least five circulars asking schools to organise activities with G20 as the central theme, be it to competitions.
‘It cultivates nationalism, love for PM’
Several teachers, with decades of work experience and in charge of organising such activities at their schools, claimed that such events help inculcate a sense of nationalism among students. All the teachers Newslaundry spoke to said the scale at which these activities are now being organised is unprecedented.
Rekha Mehan, senior librarian and in-charge of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat at GD Goenka school in Lucknow, said these activities leave a “positive impression” of the government and the prime minister on children. “Recently, under Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, CBSE had suggested an activity in which students had to write postcards to the PM. From our school, they wrote beautiful letters…through all of this, Narendra Modi leaves a solid impact on them, directly or indirectly.”
“When they learn about India’s G20 presidency, it fills them with pride. And with the CBSE’s activities around G20, they naturally feel that India is developing. It also cultivates nationalism in them, as a consequence of love and pride for Narendra Modi,” said a teacher, who did not wish to be named, while referring to an event at the Delhi government’s Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalayas in the national capital four months ago.
At this event, hundreds of girl students from poor socio-economic backgrounds gathered at the school’s branches across Delhi, only to applaud their teachers’ words of praise for India’s G20 presidency.
CBSE isn’t the only authority promoting such activities at the school level. Last month, the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi was accused by the BJP of making government school students in Delhi write over 20,000 letters for “Manish Chacha” – a solidarity campaign in support of jailed former minister Manish Sisodia.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had taken note of the use of children’s pictures for “political benefits” and asked the Delhi Police to probe AAP legislators uploading such pictures of minors on Twitter in “furtherance of a political agenda”.
“It’s a good idea to inform students about contemporary issues. But if you put up images of the prime minister everywhere then…it can not be seen as the initiative of CBSE or ministry because political coloring is too strong,” said Sanjay Kumar, a professor and co-director at Lokniti.
However, Dr Joseph said the CBSE is the “only board which has a presence across the country”. “Passing of the information is also quick and its impact is visible…our teachers are also trained to check the (CBSE) website regularly.”
A post-poll study conducted by Lokniti had found out that in the 2019 general elections, the BJP emerged as the most preferred party among first-time young voters. In the 18-22 age group, 41 percent voted for the BJP, which is four percentage points higher than the party’s national vote share. The BJP’s vote share had increased by four percentage points among first-time young voters in 2019 as compared to 2014.
The first time PM Modi interacted with school students and teachers at a nationwide parent teacher meeting was in December 2014, as part of the Swachh Bharat Campaign.
“I remember most of the analysts were not able to make sense of it or were rather ridiculing it, without realising that statistically speaking he (PM Modi) was looking at the 10 percent of the first-time voter base for 2019 elections,” said Yashwant Deshmukh, founding director of CVoter.
“When was the last time you saw a political leader talk to students about stress and suicide… He (PM Modi) hardly talks about politics with them. It has a long term effect because the children are in their formative years, in which they look at politics with a lot of negativity, but if they are presented with non-political messaging, they will look at it positively.”