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School Textbook Controversies Around The World
Giacomo Tognini

Governments around the world — democracies and dictatorships alike — often change school textbooks and courses to fit their own agendas. From US history to Syrian schoolchildren, here are some textbook controversies in the news recently:

EGYPT: TEXTBOOK REVOLUTION

Egyptian news site Mada Masr reports that the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the 2011 revolution are posing problems for the country's educational system. The new education minister is leading a push to delete all mentions of violence from school textbooks, with the stated goal of combating extremism. But the move resulted in the removal of several chapters on the battles of early Islamic history, angering Islamist parties and many ordinary Egyptians who accuse the government of undermining Egypt's national identity. The textbooks include brief descriptions of the 2011 and 2013 revolutions, but do not significantly change the content on former President Hosni Mubarak's 30 years in power.

Muslim students take Koran lessons in makeshift school in Cairo — John Wreford/ZUMA

CHINA: NATIONALIST REWRITE

One of China's most popular history textbooks for high schoolers has been criticized for its overly nationalist tone. The book eliminates the historical context surrounding events such as World War II and the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, portraying them instead solely as nationalist struggles against "humiliation" from outsiders. The new book also downplays Mao Zedong's role in the deaths of millions during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward and includes inflammatory language towards China's neighbors, calling wartime Japanese soldiers "inhumane beasts."

In a primary school in Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province — Photo: Zhang Hongxiang/Xinhua/ZUMA
UNITED STATES: AMERICAN (UN)EXCEPTIONALISM

The new curriculum for the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in United States History has been harshly criticized by conservatives. The Washington Post. reports that the new text gives lower priority to the idea of "American exceptionalism" and more to some of the darker sides of American history, such as slavery. The controversy caused several states, most notably Oklahoma, to propose legislation against the course, writes news site Politico. But College Board, the organization that runs the Advanced Placement program, argues that the curriculum is a "framework," not a syllabus set in stone, and that it is up to individual teachers to design lesson plans around the material.



JAPAN: DILUTING HISTORY

Japan's new history textbooks have provoked a backlash from its East Asian neighbors, reports the Tokyo-based daily Japan Times. The new textbooks, slated to be distributed by April 2016, include more references to Japan's sovereignty over islands disputed with China and South Korea. The revisions also include changes in wording that diminish the Japanese government's role in a number of controversial historical events, including the confiscation of native lands during the conquest of Hokkaido, the mass suicides of locals during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, and the forced prostitution of Korean "comfort women" during World War II.

A member of the right-wing revisionist group "Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform" — Japanexperterna
SYRIA: SCHOLASTIC CIVIL WAR

In the rebel-held province of Idlib in Syria, two parallel educational systems are taking root as the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra front and the internationally recognized Syrian National Coalition (SNC) are establishing their own schools with different curricula, writes the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. While the two groups are allied on the battlefield in the struggle against the Assad regime, students are forced to choose between the two when it comes to education. While al-Nusra's schools focus more on mathematics and Koranic studies, the SNC's system is based on the old government curriculum except for the pro-regime "national education" classes, which have been removed.

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, residents of the northwestern Syrian town of Kafranbel have been drawing signs that skewer the Assad regime on various issues — Photo: Liberated Kanfranbel
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