• Thursday, July 25, 2024

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India’s move to drop Darwin’s theory of evolution from text books creates uproar

Over 4000 researchers and others have signed an open letter urging officials to reinstate the material which was omitted under a controversial recent policy adopted by education officials

Scientists said most Indian students will get no exposure to the concept of evolution if it is dropped from the ninth and 10th grade curriculum (Representational image: iStock)

By: Pramod Thomas

A decision to exclude the discussion of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution from the textbooks used by millions of ninth and tenth-grade students in India has sparked protests among scientists, according to reports.

Over 4000 researchers and others have signed an open letter urging officials to reinstate the material which was omitted under a controversial recent policy adopted by education officials.

An autonomous Indian government body, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), that sets curricula and publishes textbooks for 256 million primary and secondary students, had made the move as part of a ‘content rationalisation’ process.

Researchers fear it signals a growing embrace of pseudoscience by Indian officials, and the Breakthrough Science Society has released an open letter demanding to retain the portion in school textbooks.

According to reports, the NCERT first removed discussion of Darwinian evolution from the textbooks during the pandemic to streamline online classes.

However, officials declined to answer questions about the decision to make the removal permanent.

“The country’s scientific community is seriously dismayed to see that the theory of biological evolution … has been dropped,” the Breakthrough Science Society said in a statement. “Students will remain seriously handicapped in their thought processes if deprived of exposure to this fundamental discovery of science.”

“Most Indian students will get no exposure to the concept of evolution if it is dropped from the ninth and 10th grade curriculum, because they do not go on to study biology in later grades,” evolutionary biologist Amitabh Joshi of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, is reported to have said.

“Evolution is perhaps the most important part of biology that all educated citizens should be aware of. It speaks directly to who we are, as humans, and our position within the living world.”

Aniket Sule, an astronomer and science advocate at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, said that there is ‘not much hope’ that NCERT will reverse its decision.

Biologist Satyajit Rath, former president of the All India Peoples Science Network, is also not hopeful.

“Will [the protest] make any difference? Given the recent trajectories of such decisions of the government of India, probably not, at least over the short term. Sustained progressive efforts will be required to influence the long-term outcomes,” he said.

Researchers and politicians linked to conservative Hindu organizations have voiced doubts about evolution and promoted unsupported claims that ancient Indians built spacecraft and conducted stem cell research.

Meanwhile, an Indian minister said there was ‘misleading propaganda’ about the removal of Darwin’s Theory from the science textbook for class 10.

Education minister Subhas Sarkar said, “It is a misleading propaganda to remove Darwin’s Theory from the NCERT Curriculum.

“Due to Covid-19, rationalization of courses was going on, to reduce the burden of studies on the child. If a child wants to study, Darwin’s Theory is available on all websites. In class 12, there is already Darwin’s Theory in the syllabus so there should not be such false propaganda,” he added.

The NCERT had last year announced that the chapter ‘Heredity and Evolution’ will be replaced with ‘Heredity’ in the Class 10 science textbook.

Among the topics dropped from the chapter are ‘evolution’, ‘acquired and inherited traits’, ‘tracing evolutionary relationships’, ‘fossils’, ‘evolution by stages’, ‘evolution should not be equated with progress’ and ‘human evolution’.

(With inputs from ANI)

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