NCERT’s omissions: Class 10 students must learn fundamental scientific concepts. Here’s why

Education should aim to expand horizons, not constrict them.

WrittenBy:Rohan Bir Singh
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India is known for its rich scientific heritage and we live in a time where science and technology are playing a vital role in shaping the future. Which is why it’s even more disheartening to learn that India’s education regulatory body, the National Council of Educational Research and Training, has taken the perplexing step of excluding the theory of evolution and the periodic table from its Class 10 curriculum and omitting  evolution from the Class 9 curriculum.

While the NCERT has attempted to clarify that these topics “are available in appropriate detail” in Classes 11 and 12, its decision has nevertheless alarmed educators, scientists and parents alike. It poses a significant threat to the quality of science education and the development of a scientifically literate society. As all the students choose specific “streams” after Class 10, the omission of these chapters will entirely deprive them from the opportunity to learn these fundamental concepts during their schooling. 

Moreover, India has one of the highest student dropout rates (12.6 percent) in secondary school (Classes 9 and 10); hence, a large section of the students will never acquire the basic, yet requisite, foundational scientific knowledge. 

While introducing these changes, NCERT should have also taken into account the already expansive curriculum for non-medical and medical streams in Classes 11 and 12. The lack of prior understanding of these basic concepts in biology and chemistry will hinder the students from grasping  the more advanced concepts during the preparatory phase of the extremely competitive Joint Entrance Exam and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test.

The theory of evolution and the periodic table are not merely chapters in high school textbooks. They form a cornerstone of scientific knowledge, and their deletion from the curriculum is a disservice to the students in the country. Over 4,000 researchers have protested the exclusion of the theory of evolution in an open letter. 

Ironically, the NCERT cites “rationalising” the syllabus due to Covid-related disruptions in school education. But the rampant dissemination of misinformation during the Covid pandemic further solidifies the arguments against the exclusion of the theory of evolution. These changes in the curriculum will limit the ability of the young population to engage with scientific advancements, both nationally and internationally, and will further allow “quackery” to take root in Indian society.

A historic legacy

The theory of evolution, first proposed by Charles Darwin in the 19th century, is one of the most fundamental and widely accepted scientific theories in existence. It provides an explanation for the diversity of life on earth and the mechanisms by which species evolve over time. The theory has revolutionised our understanding of biology, genetics and even medicine. 

By excluding the theory of evolution from the secondary school curriculum, the NCERT is denying students the opportunity to engage with a mainstay  of modern scientific thought. It hampers their ability to critically analyse and understand the natural world, hindering their scientific literacy and limiting their future academic and professional prospects.

The periodic table stands as a testament to the countless hours of research, experimentation and collaboration conducted by scientists throughout history. Dmitri Mendeleev's breakthrough in organising the elements based on their atomic properties revolutionised our understanding of the natural world. It provides a framework that has allowed scientists to predict the existence of new elements, understand their behaviour, and unravel the intricacies of chemical reactions.

Ethical implications

The decision to exclude the theory of evolution also raises ethical concerns. As a multicultural and diverse nation, India should value the importance of providing a comprehensive education that fosters tolerance, respect and an appreciation for different perspectives. The theory of evolution, rooted in empirical evidence, helps bridge the gap between different religious and cultural beliefs by offering a scientific explanation for the origins of life, independent of any particular religious doctrine. 

By sidestepping the teaching of evolution, the NCERT risks promoting a narrow worldview that contradicts the principles of secularism and pluralism that India has long espoused. Education should aim to expand horizons, promote critical thinking, and encourage students to form their own opinions based on a solid foundation of knowledge.

Scientific literacy, critical thinking

At a time when the world is grappling with complex environmental challenges, these exclusions send a worrisome message about the value placed on scientific literacy in India. The exclusion of the theory of evolution from the curriculum sets a dangerous precedent that undermines the importance of evidence-based reasoning and critical thinking. Scientific literacy is a crucial skill in the 21st century, enabling individuals to make informed decisions and participate meaningfully in a rapidly advancing world. 

By eliminating the theory of evolution, students are deprived of an essential framework for understanding the biological sciences and the interrelatedness of all living organisms. They will be denied the opportunity to explore concepts such as natural selection, adaptation and the shared ancestry of species. Furthermore, this exclusion creates a void in their scientific knowledge, weakening their ability to comprehend and interpret complex biological phenomena. 

Meanwhile, the exclusion of the periodic table will deprive the students of a fundamental tool that helps them comprehend the composition of matter, the behaviour of elements, and the foundations of chemistry. With the periodic table excluded from the curriculum, students will enter higher education institutions lacking a solid foundation in chemistry. This knowledge gap will have a cascading effect, hindering a student’s ability to pursue careers in scientific fields and stifling the advancement of scientific research and innovation in the country. 

India has long been celebrated for its contributions to scientific research and innovation. Many Indian scientists and researchers have made ground breaking discoveries in various fields, contributing to the global scientific community.  Several countries have recognised the significance of these essential scientific concepts and taken steps to enhance their prominence in science education. They lay emphasis on a comprehensive understanding of physical and life sciences which are crucial for fostering a scientifically literate society. 

On the contrary, NCERT has taken a step backward. Instead, it should take inspiration from these countries and reinstate these foundational concepts as an integral part of its secondary  school curriculum. This would require revising the curriculum to incorporate practical experiments, hands-on activities, and interactive teaching methodologies to ensure students' active engagement and understanding.

Collaboration between educators, scientists, and policymakers is paramount to address this issue. Science educators should emphasise the relevance and applicability of concepts such as evolution and periodic table in everyday life, making it more relatable and accessible to students. Moreover, initiatives such as science clubs, workshops, and public outreach programs can play a vital role in generating interest and enthusiasm for the subject.

India's commitment to secularism, pluralism, and a rich intellectual heritage demands a comprehensive and inclusive education system. The theory of evolution, with its broad implications for biology, genetics and beyond, should be embraced rather than shunned. It is imperative for NCERT to reconsider this decision and reinstate the theory of evolution in the Class 10 curriculum, ensuring a brighter and more enlightened future for its students and the nation as a whole.

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