Bias in education

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Bias in education refers to real or perceived bias in the educational system.

Bias in school textbooks[edit]

The content of school textbooks is often the issue of debate, as their target audience is young people, and the term "whitewashing" is the one commonly used to refer to selective removal of critical or damaging evidence or comment.[1][2][3] The reporting of military atrocities in history is extremely controversial, as in the case of the Holocaust (or Holocaust denial) and the Winter Soldier Investigation of the Vietnam War. The representation of every society's flaws or misconduct is typically downplayed in favor of a more nationalist or patriotic view. Also, Christians and other religionists have at times attempted to block the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools, as evolutionary theory appears to contradict their religious beliefs; the teaching of creationism as a science is likewise blocked from many public schools. In the context of secondary-school education, the way facts and history are presented greatly influences the interpretation of contemporary thought, opinion and socialization. One legitimate argument for censoring the type of information disseminated is based on the inappropriate quality of such material for the young. The use of the "inappropriate" distinction is in itself controversial, as it can be used to enforce wider and more politically motivated censorship.[citation needed]

Religious bias[edit]

Many countries and states have guidelines against bias in education, but they are not always implemented. The guidelines of the California Department of Education (Code 60044) state the following: "No religious belief or practice may be held up to ridicule and no religious group may be portrayed as inferior." "Any explanation or description of a religious belief or practice should be present in a manner that does not encourage or discourage belief or indoctrinate the student in any particular religious belief."[4]

On the basis of these guidelines, the Board of Education of California corrected in 2005 misrepresentations of Judaism, Islam and Hinduism in schoolbooks.[5] Many of these misrepresentations were described as biased, erroneous or culturally derogatory. All 500 changes proposed by Jews and about 100 changes proposed by Muslims were accepted.

Gender bias[edit]

According to fourth edition of annual Global Education Monitoring Report of UNESCO, 2020, depiction of female characters are less frequest and often discriminatory in school text books of many countries.[6]

By country or region[edit]


A recent study of student evaluations of teaching (SET) from a large public university in Sydney focused on gender and cultural bias.[7] The dataset of more than 523,000 individual student surveys across 5 different faculties spanned a seven year period 2010-2016. There were 2,392 unique courses and 3,123 individual teachers in the dataset. The researchers concluded, "We detected statistically significant bias against women and staff with non-English language backgrounds, although these effects do not appear in every faculty. Our findings on the effect of cultural background is novel and significant because in Australia, where the population is culturally diverse, current policy and administrative actions have focussed on addressing gender bias, but less on cultural or racial bias. We found some evidence that the proportion of women or staff with non-English language backgrounds in a faculty may be negatively correlated with bias, i.e., having a diverse teaching staff population may reduce bias. We also found that due to the magnitude of these potential biases, the SET scores are likely to be flawed as a measure of teaching performance. Finally, we found no evidence that student’s unconscious bias changes with the level of their degree program."[7]

United States[edit]

Many recent allegations against the United States have surfaced about the hiding of many historical facts from the public through public education and thus luring the public to believing that the actions taken by the U.S. government are justified and provide a global benefit.[citation needed]

On the political left, professors Howard Zinn and James Loewen allege that United States history as presented in school textbooks has a conservative bias. A People's History of the United States, by American historian and political scientist Zinn, seeks to present American history through the eyes of groups rarely heard in mainstream histories. Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution studying and comparing twelve American history textbooks widely used throughout the United States. His findings were published in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong.[8]

On the political right, professor Larry Schweikart makes the opposite case: he alleges in his 48 Liberal Lies About American History that United States history education has a liberal bias.[9]

In a landmark book called "The Trouble with Textbooks," Dr. Gary A. Tobin and Dennis R. Ybarra show how some American textbooks contain anti-Semitic versions of Jewish history and faith, particularly in relation to Christianity and Islam. The authors found that some U.S. textbooks "tend to discredit the ties between Jews and the Land of Israel. Israel is blamed for starting wars in the region and being colonialist. Jews are charged with deicide in the killing of Jesus. All in all, there are repeated misrepresentations that cross the line into bigotry."[10]

Zero Tolerance policies and Racial Bias[edit]

In 2008, The American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force conducted a study to determine if zero tolerance policies were effective in achieving their goals.[11] The task force conducted an evidentiary review study which summarized the key findings from twenty years of literature review since the implementation of zero tolerance policies. In addition, the task force also conducted a review of an extensive national database on school discipline. Zero tolerance policies were first introduced to schools in the 1990s to enforce strict disciplinary actions against drug usage. The idea behind zero tolerance policies was that by removing students who participated in those misbehaviors, schools were removing the threat of students further promoting those misbehaviors; thus, allowing for a safer school environment. Schools across the nation began to implement zero-tolerance policies which resulted in predetermined and often severe consequences for students. Schools implemented strict policies without taking into account the context of the situation that led to the disciplinary action. Schools' zero tolerance policies lacked clarity and definition which has led to the misuse of zero tolerance policies. For example, schools enforcing harsh disciplinary consequences for actions that do not endanger school safety. One example the study found was a student who was expelled for using a cell phone to talk to his mom who was overseas. This along with other examples demonstrated that there was a gray area in zero tolerance policy which many times left the interpretation to school administrators and teachers.[11]

In theory, zero tolerance policy is a fair practice because it adopts a universal disciplinary policy for all students. However, research shows that there is an overrepresentation of African American students in zero tolerance cases such as suspensions and expulsions.[11] The U.S. Department of Education collected data which further showed that African American students were more than twice as likely to have a zero tolerance violation than their white classmates in corporal punishment, out of school suspension, and expulsion.[11] Research shows that the disproportionate number of African American students being expelled and suspended through zero tolerance policy is not due to an increase in misbehavior but is due to an increase in zero tolerance policy enforcement.[12] Townsend (2000) argues that racial stereotypes and lack of cultural competency of teachers plays a role in interactions between teachers and African American students.[12] In a study with students from an urban high school, Sheets (1996) noted that students of color viewed disciplinary actions from teachers as intentional. Students also argued that teachers used subjective reasons for example “lack of respect” to enforce zero tolerance policies and remove students from the classroom.[12]

Schools misuse of zero tolerance policies has also led to the criminalization of students of color and has resulted in high suspension and expulsion rates. This push out from schools leads students of color into the criminal justice system in a phenomenon called the school to prison pipeline.[12] Heitzeg (2009) refers to the school to prison pipeline as the growing pattern of students who are pushed out of schools as a result of zero tolerance policies who are then introduced to the criminal justice system.[12] Studies show that African American males are more likely to drop out of schools due to disciplinary reasons. According to the Office of Education Ombudsan in Washington state, 33% of the students who dropped out of high school during the 2011-2012 school year were African American.[12] Heitzeg (2009) states that although there are other factors in our education system that contribute to students dropping out of school, zero tolerance is a direct factor that contributes to high drop out numbers in a racially disproportionate manner.[12]

Middle East[edit]

Palestinian school text books have come under repeated criticism for anti-Israeli bias. An independent study of Palestinian textbooks by Professor Nathan Brown of George Washington University in Washington, DC, found that Palestine National Authority-authored books avoid treating anything controversial regarding Palestinian national identity, and while highly nationalistic, do not incite hatred, violence and anti-Semitism.

An analysis of Israeli textbooks in 2000 by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), found that there was no indoctrination against the Arabs as a nation, nor a negative presentation of Islam. However in 2012, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, published Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, an account of her study of the contents of Israeli school books, finding that Israeli school books do in fact promote racism against and negative images of Arabs, and prepare Israeli children for compulsory military service.

South Asia[edit]


In 1982 the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) issued guidelines for the rewriting of schoolbooks.[13] It stipulated that: "Characterization of the medieval period as a time of conflict between Hindus and Muslims is forbidden."[14] In April 1989 the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education had issued instructions to schools and publishers of textbooks that "Muslim rule should never attract any criticism. Destruction of temples by Muslim rulers and invaders should not be mentioned."[15] Schools and publishers have been asked to ignore and delete mention of forcible conversions to Islam. Some academicians have felt that these "corrections" were politically motivated and that they are censorship.[16]

Arun Shourie criticized these changes in schoolbooks and claimed: The most extensive deletions are ordered in regard to the chapter on "Aurangzeb's policy on religion". Every allusion to what he actually did to the Hindus, to their temples, to the very leitmotif of his rule – to spread the sway of Islam – are directed to be excised from the book. ... "In a word, no forcible conversions, no massacres, no destruction of temples. ... Muslim historians of those times are in raptures at the heap of Kafirs [sic] who have been dispatched to hell. Muslim historians are forever lavishing praise on the ruler for the temples he has destroyed, ... Law books like The Hedaya prescribe exactly the options to which these little textbooks alluded. All whitewashed away. Objective whitewash for objective history. And today if anyone seeks to restore truth to these textbooks, the shout, "Communal rewriting of history.""[17]

History textbooks and schoolbooks written by Marxist historian Romila Thapar have been criticized for being biased.[18][19]


Bias in education has been a common feature in the curriculum of many South Asian countries. According to Waghmar, many of the oriental societies are plagued by visceral nationalism and post-imperial neurosis where state-sanctioned dogmas suppress eclectic historical readings.[20] Issues such as the preaching of hatred and obscurantism and the distortion of history in Pakistan have led the international scholars to suggest the need for coordinated efforts amongst the historians to produce a composite history of the subcontinent as a common South Asian reader.[21] Bias against Indians and Hindus, as well as other religious minorities, have been found in Pakistani schoolbooks.[22] However, Nelson here stresses the need for any educational reform to be based at the needs of the level of local communities.[23]

The bias in Pakistani textbooks was studied by Rubina Saigol, Pervez Hoodbhoy, K. K. Aziz, I. A. Rahman, Mubarak Ali, A. H. Nayyar, Ahmed Saleem, Yvette Rosser and others.

A study by Nayyar & Salim (2003) that was conducted with 30 experts of Pakistan's education system, found that the textbooks contain statements that seek to create hate against Hindus. There was also an emphasis on Jihad, Shahadat, wars and military heroes. The study reported that the textbooks also had a lot of gender-biased stereotypes. Some of the problems in Pakistani textbooks cited in the report were: "Insensitivity to the existing religious diversity of the nation"; "Incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of Jehad and Shahadat"; a "glorification of war and the use of force"; "Inaccuracies of fact and omissions that serve to substantially distort the nature and significance of actual events in our history"; "Perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry and discrimination towards fellow citizens, especially women and religious minorities, and other towards nations" and "Omission of concepts ... that could encourage critical selfawareness among students".[24]

These problems still seem to persist: The Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education rejected a textbook in December 2003 because of two serious objections: The textbook contained the text of letter of a non-Muslim, and it contained the story of a family were both husband and wife worked and were sharing their household chores. In February 2004, a textbook was disapproved by the Curriculum Wing because it didn't contain enough material on jihad.[25]

Pakistani textbooks were relatively unbiased up to 1972, but were rewritten and completely altered under Bhutto's and especially under Zia's (1977–88) rule.[26] The bias in Pakistani textbooks was also documented by Yvette Rosser (2003). She wrote that "in the past few decades, social studies textbooks in Pakistan have been used as locations to articulate the hatred that Pakistani policy makers have attempted to inculcate towards their Hindu neighbours", and that as a result "in the minds of generations of Pakistanis, indoctrinated by the 'Ideology of Pakistan' are lodged fragments of hatred and suspicion."[27]

Professors who have been critical of Pakistani politics or corruption have are sometimes discriminated against. Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy, who was also a critic of Pakistani politics, had troubles leaving the country for a lecture in the Physics department at MIT, because he was denied a NOC (No Objection Certificate) necessary for travels abroad.[28]

One of the omissions in Pakistani textbooks is Operation Gibraltar. Operation Gibraltar, which provoked the Indian Army attack on Lahore, is not mentioned in most history textbooks. According to Pakistani textbooks, Lahore was attacked without any provocation on the part of the Pakistani army.[29] The rule of Islamic invaders like Mahmud of Gahzni is glorified, while the much more peaceful Islamic ruler Akbar is often ignored in Pakistani textbooks.

The Pakistani Curriculum document for classes K-V stated in 1995 that "at the completion of Class-V, the child should be able to":

  • "Acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan."[pg 154]
  • "Demonstrate by actions a belief in the fear of Allah." [pg154]
  • "Make speeches on Jehad and Shahadat" [pg154]
  • "Understand Hindu-Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan." [pg154]
  • "India's evil designs against Pakistan." [pg154]
  • "Be safe from rumour mongers who spread false news" [pg158]
  • "Visit police stations" [pg158]
  • "Collect pictures of policemen, soldiers, and National Guards" [pg158]
  • "Demonstrate respect for the leaders of Pakistan" [pg153][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sadker, David. "Seven Forms of Bias in Instructional Materials". Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  2. ^ Strauss, Valerie (12 September 2014). "Proposed Texas textbooks are inaccurate, biased and politicized, new report finds". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  3. ^ Czitrom, Daniel (22 March 2010). "Texas school board whitewashes history". CNN. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  4. ^ California State Law, Education Code 60044, Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content, 2000 Edition Archived February 9, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 15 June 2008
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Service, Tribune News. "UNESCO report reveals covert gender bias in school textbooks". Tribuneindia News Service. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  7. ^ a b Johnston, E. L.; Abel, R.; Stone, M.; Waters, D.; Slavich, E.; Shepherd, L. J.; Fan, Y. (2019-02-13). "Gender and cultural bias in student evaluations: Why representation matters". PLOS ONE. 14 (2): e0209749. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209749. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6373838. PMID 30759093.
  8. ^ "People's History United States, Jan 26 2000 - Video -".
  9. ^ "48 Liberal Lies American History, Sep 23 2008 - Video -".
  10. ^ "U.S. Textbooks: 'Jesus was Palestinian'". Israel National News.
  11. ^ a b c d American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force (2008). Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? American Psychologist, 63(9), 852–862.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Berlowitz, M.J., Frye, R., & Jette, K. (2017). Bullying and Zero-Tolerance Policies: The School to Prison Piepline. Multicultural Learning and Teaching, 12(1), 7-25.
  13. ^ (Indian Express 17 January 1982, New Delhi; Shourie 1998)
  14. ^ (Elst 1992)
  15. ^ (Shourie 1998)
  16. ^ (The Statesman, 21 May 1989)
  17. ^ Arun Shourie (1998)
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-14. Retrieved 2015-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2015-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link).
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2019-04-16. Retrieved 2015-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Waghmar, B. (2005). Pakistan Studies: The State of the Craft. Dawn. 27 February. p. 5. Retrieved on 9 June 2008.
  21. ^ Verghese, B.G. (2004). Myth and hate as history Archived 2008-08-27 at the Wayback Machine. The Hindu. 23 June. Retrieved on 7 June 2008.
  22. ^ Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama`at-i Islami of Pakistan (University of California Press, 1994) p121-122
  23. ^ Nelson, M.J. (2006). Muslims, Markets, and the Meaning of ‘A Good Education’ in Pakistan Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine. Asian Survey. 46(5). pp. 699-720.
  24. ^ (Nayyar & Salim 2003)
  25. ^ (Nayyar 2004)
  26. ^ "'Pakistani social studies textbooks creating havoc'". 15 January 2006. Archived from the original on 15 January 2006.
  27. ^ (Rosser 2003)
  28. ^ [2]
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-17. Retrieved 2015-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ (National Bureau of Curriculum and Textbooks Federal Ministry of Education, 1995 Government of Pakistan. Pervez Hoodbhoy - What Are They Teaching In Pakistani Schools Today? "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2015-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link))
  • K.K.Aziz. (2004) The Murder of History : A Critique of History Textbooks used in Pakistan. ISBN 969-402-126-X Vanguard.[3]
  • Agarwal, Vishal. Misrepresentation and Stereotyping of Hindu Dharma in History Textbooks in India. 2004. [4]
  • Agarwal, Vishal. Review of Romila Thapar’s ‘Ancient India, A Textbook of History for Middle Schools’ NCERT: New Delhi (1987) 2002. [5]
  • Elst, Koenraad. (1992) Negationism in India - Concealing the Record of Islam.
  • Nayyar, A.H. & Salim, Ahmad. The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Text-books in Pakistan - Urdu, English, Social Studies and Civics. Sustainable Development Policy Institute. [6] [7] [8]
  • Rosser, Yvette. Indoctrinating Minds: Politics of Education in Bangladesh, RUPA, New Delhi, 2004. [9].
  • --- Islamization of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks, RUPA, New Delhi, 2003.
  • --- "The Clandestine Curriculum: The Temple of Doom in the Classroom", Education About Asia, Volume 6, Number 3, Winter 2001 (Association of Asian Studies) [10] [11].
  • ---"Hegemony and Historiography: The Politics of Pedagogy", Asia Review, Dhaka, Fall 1999.
  • ---"Stereotypes in Schooling: Negative Pressures in the American Educational System on Hindu Identity Formation", Hindu Diaspora: Global Perspectives, Rukmani, ed. Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, 1999 [12].
  • Shourie, Arun. Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud. New Delhi, 1998. ISBN 8190019988 [13]
  • Dr A H Nayyar. Twisted truth: Press and politicians make gains from SDPI curriculum report SDPI Research and News Bulletin Vol. 11, No. 1, January - February 2004
  • Pervez Hoodbhoy - What Are They Teaching In Pakistani Schools Today? (International Movement for a Just World) [14]
  • Bias in education in California

External links[edit]