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Experts baffled as NCERT removes periodic table, evolution from textbooks, sparks outrage

Experts baffled as NCERT removes periodic table, evolution from textbooks, sparks outrage

New Delhi: School students returning to school this year will no longer receive education on important scientific topics such as evolution, the periodic table of elements, various pollution and climate-related topics as well as environmental sustainability.

The removal of evolution from the curriculum for students aged 15–16 had sparked protests where thousands of people signed a petition against the move.

However, newly released textbooks by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have revealed further cuts including the periodic table along with other foundational topics such as sources of energy and environmental sustainability.

There are also cuts to biology, chemistry, geography, mathematics and physics subjects for older school students.

These changes, that is likely to affect approximately 134 million students aged 11-18, have caused outrage among researchers and educators.

Critics argue that the removal of chapters related to water, air pollution, resource management, and different energy sources contradicts the relevance of these subjects in today's world.

Experts point out that these changes are alarming to experts in science education.

“The idea [behind the new policy] is that you make students ask questions," says Anindita Bhadra, an evolutionary biologist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata.

But she says that removing fundamental concepts is likely to stifle curiosity, rather than encourage it. “The way this is being done, by saying ‘drop content and teach less’", she says, “that’s not the way you do it".

Mythili Ramchand, a science-teacher trainer at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India, says that “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.

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

“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".

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.

A small section on Michael Faraday’s contributions to the understanding of electricity and magnetism in the nineteenth century has also been stripped from the class-10 syllabus.

In non-science content, chapters on democracy and diversity; political parties; and challenges to democracy have been scrapped. And a chapter on the industrial revolution has been removed for older students.

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.

Despite relying on expert committees to oversee the changes, NCERT has not engaged with parents and teachers to explain the rationale behind these changes.

The lack of response from NCERT and the absence of public comments on the matter have also added to the concerns regarding the reasoning behind these decisions.

Further, the references to ‘Khalistan’ and ‘separate Sikh nation’, which were mentioned in the context of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, have been dropped from the Class 12 political science textbook of the NCERT, the Union Ministry of Education announced Tuesday.

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