India has dropped Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the periodic table of elements from some school textbooks, part of a widening campaign by the Hindu nationalist government that has prompted warnings from educators about the impact on teaching and the country’s vital technology sector.
More than 4,500 scientists, teachers and others have signed a petition saying they “disagree with such dangerous changes in school science education and demand to restore the theory of Darwinian evolution in secondary education” to grade 10 textbooks.
The curriculum changes, previously reported by the journal Nature, have been confirmed in a “list of rationalised content” published last month by India’s National Council of Educational Research & Training (NCERT) as Indian schoolchildren return to classes.
Since Narendra Modi’s government came to power in 2014, national and local education authorities have altered school textbooks, including axing chapters on India’s centuries of history under Muslim Mughal rule, drawing indignation from academics.
“I’m afraid that we are joining the ranks of countries where children will be discouraged from studying science,” said Amitabh Pandey, an astronomer and science educator based in Delhi. Turkey cut teaching on evolution from its school textbooks in 2017.
India has also dropped chapters on “democracy and diversity” and “challenges to democracy”, among other changes to grade 10 classes.
Science teachers have warned that the latest move could endanger the large and globally competitive research and information technology sector, a big economic contributor to the world’s most populous country.
“For most of the 75 years of its independent history, India was never afraid of embracing modern science,” said Aniket Sule, a professor at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in Mumbai. “It always found a safe space in Indian classrooms – and now it’s being eroded.”
While evolution would still be taught in grades 11 and 12, Sule noted, many Indian pupils chose not to study science or maths beyond grade 10. “You are depriving this knowledge for the bulk of students,” he said.
The changes were introduced as part of a streamlining of curriculums in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to ease the burden on students and teachers conducting classes online.
NCERT and India’s ministry of education could not be reached for comment. In a statement this week, NCERT said the curriculum overhaul was a “need-based exercise aimed at reducing the content load, keeping in view the students’ mental health during the Covid pandemic and its aftermath”.
It said the new textbooks were a transitional solution that would apply only to the current 2023-24 academic year.
But science teachers voiced worries that the changes might become permanently embedded in Indian education.
“It makes me suspicious that they say it’s temporary,” said Vineeta Bal, professor emeritus at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune. “What worries me is that there may be some intention to cut down on areas that are potentially uncomfortable for the current government.”
In 2018, Satyapal Singh, then-India’s minister of state for human resource development, dismissed the theory of evolution as “scientifically wrong” and called for it to be removed from school and college curricula. No one “saw an ape turning into a man”, he said in remarks quoted by the Press Trust of India, a news agency.
– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023