India has dropped key topics such as evolution and the periodic table from some school textbooks, sparking an outcry from scientists and educators who say it will harm students’ understanding of science and their future careers.
The changes affect some 134 million 11–18-year-olds in India’s schools, who will no longer be taught about evolution, the periodic table of elements, sources of energy and environmental sustainability, among other subjects.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which develops the curriculum and textbooks, has not explained its rationale for the changes, which were made last year to reduce students’ workload during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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.
They say that evolution is a fundamental concept in biology that explains the diversity and unity of life, and that removing it will leave students with a poor grasp of scientific principles and methods.
The periodic table, which shows how life’s building blocks combine to generate substances with vastly different properties, is another cornerstone of science that has been removed from the textbooks.
Education experts and scientists have also warned that the changes will affect India’s technology sector, which relies on a skilled workforce in fields such as biotechnology, medicine and engineering.
“The removal of these topics will have a negative impact on students’ understanding of science. It will also affect their career prospects in these fields,” said Soumitro Banerjee, a physicist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata and general secretary of Breakthrough Science Society.
Some teachers have also expressed their dismay at the changes, saying that they will deprive students of learning about important issues such as water conservation, air pollution and renewable energy.
“I don’t see how conservation of water, and air [pollution], is not relevant for us. It’s all the more so currently,” said Mythili Ramchand, a science-teacher trainer at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India.
The NCERT has not consulted with parents, teachers and researchers on the curriculum changes. Those who study science education have told Nature that they’re baffled, not least by the lack of any engagement.
India’s constitution states that citizens have a duty “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. But these values seem to be less valued by those involved in setting the country’s education policies.
– Experts, teachers alarmed as India removes evolution, periodic table from textbooks, The Straits Times, June 14, 2023
– India cuts periodic table and evolution from school textbooks — experts are baffled, Nature, May 31, 2023
– Why is India dropping evolution and the periodic table from school science?, Nature, May 30, 2023
– India cuts the periodic table and evolution from schoolbooks, DW, June 2, 2023