The Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has removed references to the 19th century English naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution from certain textbooks.
For the 2021-22 school year, questions related to evolution and the origin of species were excluded from ninth- and tenth-grade examinations in India’s public schools, while some of these topics were still part of the curriculum.
However, when NewsCafe tried to have a look at Chapter 9 “Heredity and Evolution,” the clickable link would open a PDF file about “Light – Reflection and Refraction,” which on the list of topics is part of Chapter 10 but in fact it moved to Chapter 11.
It is unclear whether this was done intentionally to hide the themes on evolution or purely by mistake. Yet this speaks of a shift towards prohibition of certain subjects, according to more than 4,000 Indian scientists and scholars who have signed an open letter opposing the decision.
They stated, among others: “In the current educational structure, only a small fraction of students chooses the science stream in grade 11 or 12, and an even smaller fraction of those choose biology as one of the subjects of study. Thus, the exclusion of key concepts from the curriculum till grade 10 amounts to a vast majority of students missing a critical part of essential learning in this field.”
“Knowledge and understanding of evolutionary biology are important not just to any subfield of biology, but is also key to understanding the world around us. Evolutionary biology is an area of science with a huge impact on how we choose to deal with an array of problems we face as societies and nations from medicine and drug discovery, epidemiology, ecology and environment, to psychology, and it also addresses our understanding of humans and their place in the tapestry of life,” the letter reads further.
In response, ministerial officials and academics close to the Modi government attacked the scientific community in the media, defending the change with the need for “rationalization” of textbooks and the “Lighter Schoolbags” initiative of the the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which is the publisher of textbooks in India.
The scientists were literally accused of “misinformation” with the intention to derail Modi’s educational reforms.
The signatory scientists regard the decision as an attempt to politicize science and demanded the NCERT to reintroduce evolution as an approved subject matter for early high school students.