Jammu & Kashmir

Periodic table, evolution cut from textbooks of Indian students, experts shocked

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Students attend class. [FPK Photo/ Qayoom Khan]

New Delhi: In India, children under-16 will no longer be taught about evolution, the periodic table of elements, or sources of energy in the schools as National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) — the public body that develops the Indian school curriculum and textbooks — released textbooks for the new academic year.

Overall, the changes affect some 134 million 11–18-year-olds in India’s schools.

The removal of evolution from the curriculum for students had already garnered significant attention and sparked a petition in protest. However, newly released textbooks by the NCERT have revealed further cuts, including a chapter on the periodic table and various pollution- and climate-related topics for younger learners. Furthermore, biology, chemistry, geography, mathematics, and physics subjects for older students have been affected as well.

Earlier in April, NCERT removed from the new Class 12 political science and history textbooks references such as the “dislike of Hindu extremists for Mahatma Gandhi’s pursuit of Hindu-Muslim unity” and banning of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after his assassination.

A comparison of the new Class 12 political science textbook titled “Politics in India since Independence” with its older version showed that a reference to how Gandhi’s “steadfast pursuit of Hindu-Muslim unity provoked Hindu extremists so much that they made several attempts to assassinate Gandhiji” has also been deleted from the sub-topic titled “Mahatma Gandhi’s sacrifice” in the first chapter.

That Gandhi was “particularly disliked by those who wanted Hindus to take revenge or who wanted India to become a country for the Hindus, just as Pakistan was for Muslims” has also been deleted.

The references to the crackdown on organisations spreading communal hatred, the ban on RSS for some time, and the loss of appeal of communal politics, too, have been removed.

NCERT also removed chapters on the Mughal Empire from the Class 12 history book.

The book ‘Themes in Indian History-Part II’ no longer includes chapters on ‘Kings and Chronicles; the Mughal Courts (C. 16th and 17th centuries)’.

The Class 12 civics book has been updated, with two chapters (‘American Hegemony in World Politics’ and ‘The Cold War Era’) removed, along with revisions made to the history and Hindi textbooks.

The ‘Indian Politics after Independence’ textbook for Class 12 has removed the two chapters ‘Rise of Popular Movements’ and ‘Era of One Party Dominance’.

The ‘Democratic Politics-II’ textbook for Class 10 has undergone changes, including the removal of chapters on ‘Democracy and Diversity’, ‘Popular Struggles and Movements’, and ‘Challenges of Democracy’, while some revisions have also been made to Class 11 books.

Class 11 textbook ‘Themes in World History’ no longer includes chapters like ‘Central Islamic Lands’, ‘Clash of Cultures’, and ‘Industrial Revolution’.

Meanwhile, researchers, including those who study science education, have expressed shock over the cut.

“Anybody who’s trying to teach biology without dealing with evolution is not teaching biology as we currently understand it,” Nature quoted Jonathan Osborne, a science-education researcher at Stanford University in California, as saying.

“It’s that fundamental to biology.” The periodic table explains how life’s building blocks combine to generate substances with vastly different properties, he adds, and “is one of the great intellectual achievements of chemists”.

Quoting Mythili Ramchand, a science-teacher trainer at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India, the report said, “Everything related to water, air pollution, resource management has been removed. “I don’t see how conservation of water, and air [pollution], is not relevant for us. It’s all the more so currently,” she adds. A chapter on different sources of energy — from fossil fuels to renewables — has also been removed. “That’s a bit strange, quite honestly, given the relevance in today’s world,” says Osborne.

More than 4,500 scientists, teachers and science communicators have signed an appeal organized by Breakthrough Science Society, a campaign group based in Kolkata, India, to reinstate the axed content on evolution.

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