Indian science curriculum axes not only evolution, but the periodic table, energy sources, and pollution

May 31, 2023 • 9:15 am

As I wrote in April, India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), decided to remove evolution—a great unifying theory of biology—from all science classes below “class 11”, , which means that only students who have decided to major in biology will learn about evolution. (Indian students begin specializing younger than do American students.)

. . . . evolution used to be part of science class in “Classes 9 and 10,” which in India are kids 13-15 years old.  After that they take exams and have to decide what subjects to specialize in: science (with or without biology), commerce, economics, the arts, and so on. Specialization begins early, before the age at which kids go to college in America.

In India now, only the students who decide to go the Biology route in Classes 11 and 12 will get any exposure to evolution at all! It’s been wiped out of the biology material taught to any kids who don’t choose to major in biology.

The deep-sixing of evolution was originally part of the whittling-down of the Indian school curriculum during the pandemic, but now it appears to be a permanent change, and not just in public schools, but also in many private ones, who follow the same standards set by the ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education).

But it’s gotten worse. NCERT has eliminated not only evolution from most secondary school science classes, but have also deep-sixed the periodic table (!), as well as sources of energy and material about air and water pollution. (One would think those topics would be relevant in a country as crowded as India.)

This is all reported in a new article from Nature (click on screenshot for a free read):

An excerpt:

In India, children under-16 returning to school at the start of the new school year this month, will no longer be taught about evolution, the periodic table of elements, or sources of energy.

The news that evolution would be cut from the curriculum for students aged 15–16 was widely reported last month, when thousands of people signed a petition in protest. But official guidance has revealed that a chapter on the periodic table will be cut, too, along with other foundational topics such as sources of energy and environmental sustainability. Younger learners will no longer be taught certain pollution- and climate-related topics, and there are cuts to biology, chemistry, geography, mathematics and physics subjects for older school students.

Overall, the changes affect some 134 million 11–18-year-olds in India’s schools. The extent of what has changed became clearer last month when the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) — the public body that develops the Indian school curriculum and textbooks — released textbooks for the new academic year starting in May.

Researchers, including those who study science education, are shocked.

Not only that, but NCERT didn’t get input from parents or teachers, or even respond to Nature‘s request for comment. Here’s what’s gone besides evolution:

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. 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 chapter on the periodic table of elements has been removed from the syllabus for class-10 students, who are typically 15–16 years old. Whole chapters on sources of energy and the sustainable management of natural resources have also been removed.

They’ve also bowdlerized stuff on politics:

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.

And here’s NCERT’s explanation, which doesn’t make sense at all.

In explaining its changes, NCERT states on its website that it considered whether content overlapped with similar content covered elsewhere, the difficulty of the content, and whether the content was irrelevant. It also aims to provide opportunities for experiential learning and creativity.

First, evolution is NOT covered elsewhere, nor is it that difficult in principle. You don’t even have to teach natural selection; you can just give people the evidence for evolution, which is hardly rocket science. And the periodic table? That’s hard? How else will students learn about the elements?  As I said, only students age 16 and above will even hear about evolution or the elements, and most students in India will not go on to college where they can also learn these things. Remember, only high-school-age (in the U.S.) students who decide to specialize in science will learn about evolution, the periodic table, and energy.

And these cuts may well be permanent:

NCERT announced the cuts last year, saying that they would ease pressures on students studying online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amitabh Joshi, an evolutionary biologist at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bengaluru, India, says that science teachers and researchers expected that the content would be reinstated once students returned to classrooms. Instead, the NCERT shocked everyone by printing textbooks for the new academic year with a statement that the changes will remain for the next two academic years, in line with India’s revised education policy approved by government in July 2020.

At first I thought the dropping of evolution reflected the Hindu-centric policies of Modi, somewhat of a theocrat, but an Indian biologist (see earlier post) told me this was unlikely, as Hindus aren’t particularly offended by evolution. The reasons must lie elsewhere, but they’re a mystery to all of us. However, Joshi does that the dumping of evolution reflect in part some religious beliefs:

Science educators are particularly concerned about the removal of evolution. A chapter on diversity in living organisms and one called ‘Why do we fall ill’ has been removed from the syllabus for class-9 students, who are typically 14–15 years old. Darwin’s contributions to evolution, how fossils form and human evolution have all been removed from the chapter on heredity and evolution for class-10 pupils. That chapter is now called just ‘Heredity’. Evolution, says Joshi, is essential to understanding human diversity and “our place in the world”.

In India, class 10 is the last year in which science is taught to every student. Only students who elect to study biology in the final two years of education (before university) will learn about the topic.

Joshi says that the curriculum revision process has lacked transparency. But in the case of evolution, “more religious groups in India are beginning to take anti-evolution stances”, he says. Some members of the public also think that evolution lacks relevance outside academic institutions.

And here’s one more suggestion: that some of these ideas are “Western”—truly the dumbest reason ever not to teach them. So what if Darwin was British?

“There is a movement away from rational thinking, against the enlightenment and Western ideas” in India, adds Sucheta Mahajan, a historian at Jawaharlal Nehru University who collaborates with Mukherjee on studies of RSS influence on school texts. Evolution conflicts with creation stories, adds Mukherjee. History is the main target, but “science is one of the victims”, she adds.

So here we have the world’s largest democracy dumbing down its curriculum, making some of the greatest ideas in science unavailable to its citizens.  This is unconscionable, but there’s little those outside of India can do about this.  The only thing I can think of is to is tell Richard Dawkins, who can at least embarrass the government by tweeting about this.  Otherwise, there are no petitions to sign, nobody to protest to.  And millions of Indian kids will be deprived of the greatest idea in biology.

From the Indian Express:

h/t: Matthew


38 thoughts on “Indian science curriculum axes not only evolution, but the periodic table, energy sources, and pollution

  1. These are Hindus, not Muslims, but they are equally stupid, like Russia that also tried to erase evolution in favor of Lysenkoism.
    Of course millions of religious Americans still dont believe in evolution either, and American Marxists downplay genetics and heredity and favor Nurture over Nature. Conclusion: brain damage is not unique to any religion or ideology…

    1. I am from India, I was first introduced to periodicity and modern periodic law in grade 11. There was NO periodic table or periodic law till grade 10th. This is 1990s I am talking about.

      Evolution was taught at grade 8th and 9th.

      And reason to remove these topics in lower grades has nothing to do with religion here nor “decolonizing” or “hating west”. Far from it. Science is celebrated a lot among Indian populace to the point non-science major are considered “defective”, “retarded” or “inferior”. We major in science even though later we do just accounting.

      The reason for removal is simply elsewhere. India is a land of massive number of people and have exceptionally high competition for everything. Education, jobs, money, everything. Indian parents are real slave drivers when it comes to education. Indian kids live under a massive pressure to perform in exams. This causes a lot of suicides of even the best performing kids. There is also an increasing trend of drug abuse among kids due to this. Each exam year the news of kids suicides are aplenty in media. If American kids commit suicide due to not being able to fit in, having broken families, bullying; Indian kids commit suicide due to less than perfect scores in exams.

      Lastly, a significant fraction of kids fail in exams in grade 10th (which is government conducted exam instead of school conducted one) and that becomes a major major political talking point.

      This step is to reduce course burden on kids. As simple as that. It is to lower the number of suicides and to increase the fraction of kids who pass the 10th and 12th grade public certificate exam. Its that simple.

  2. How do you teach chemistry without reference to the periodic table? I think that would be significantly harder than teaching biology without reference to evolution.

      1. As fun as it sounds to score pot shots on other people’s religion, it might make sense to take a stock of reality, isn’t it? BTW, this change in curriculum had absolutely NO influence of religion. It was politics but of a very different kind. It was to boost number of students who pass the 10th and 12th grade exams and to reduce suicides among students. Hinduism is too flexible to oppose any scientific education.

        When I studied Chemistry in Grade 10 (equivalent of junior high in US system), I did not study periodic law AT ALL! Yes, modern periodic law was introduced in 11th standard during 1990s in India. The issue it used to cause was the sudden jump in course load.

        You can learn a lot of chemistry without learning modern periodic law.

        Things like

        1. physical change and chemical change.
        2. reaction and rates of reaction.
        3. gas law and thermodynamics
        4. balancing chemical equations
        5. acid, bases and salts
        6. atomic structure
        7. bonds and types of bonds
        8. crystals and their structure including semiconductors
        9. radioactivity

        Your quip about Hinduism only shows your ignorance, shallow mindedness and stupidity. Westerners have a habit of talking about things they do not understand without even looking into the matter. You demonstrate it amply.

    1. Physical Chemistry, Radiochemistry, Atomic structure, Balancing chemical equation, acid bases and salts, crystalline structure are some topics that come to mind which require no knowledge of modern periodic law at an introductory level. Remember we are talking about 15 year olds here.

      Also course load of Indian education system is non-linear. Meaning you go from an education in physics which is completely devoid of mathematics in 10th grade to a fully calculus and vector based kinematics education in just 2 months of time from graduating from 10th into 11th grade. Yes, this is how it was done in my time during 1990s. I studied modern periodic law in 11th grade.

      I studied a very gentle introduction to organic evolution (without even explaining what a “species” is) in 8th std. Classification of organisms was a topic for 11th grade (I never studied it because I took Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry and skipped biology altogether after 10th). A very detailed treatment to evolution was done in 12th std for those who specialised in biology.

      The reason for this kind of weird course load (11th grade is 100 times more through than 10th grade) is for a very political reason which has NO roots in religion. Basically, uptil 10th, government want most people to finish their education or pass their exams. If they dont, it causes political uproar.

      Then there is a small issue of kids committing suicide due to course load. After 10th only those who are “strong” are supposed to take science and “weak” students are supposed to take second rate things like commerce or arts. Needless to say, most students stick with science course work just because no one wants to admit that they (or their kids) are weak.

      This is why successive governments try to make education till 10th easy to approach. So that kids don’t die and pass their exams. 10th grade is like the filter that separates literate from illiterate. So it is politically more beneficial to maximize the number of people finishing 10th grade. Hence, course “rationalisation”.

      Ofcourse, Indian government DOES omit things for religious reasons, but those are in History. The most controversial part of our education is History. But then everyone does it. Brits will never admit that Churchill was a genocidal racist in their school history textbooks will they? Nor will Japanese admit that they committed genocide in China during WW2 in their history books.

  3. One of the remarkable things in the last twenty years is the explosion of Indians in American business. In 1997 I never saw Indians in meetings or had them on my teams. Now it’s remarkable if they aren’t present. This looks like it would reverse that over time, or ghettoize them in areas like software coding.

  4. Maybe the educrats in India have been influenced by their counterparts in the US, and they are simply “decolonizing” the secondary school curriculum. Removing discoveries by old white men (e.g., Darwin, Faraday, Dalton, Mendeleev, Rutherford, etc. etc. ) from general education is an essential part of this campaign, and it will no doubt have proponents here as well. In the meantime, those of us who retain fragments of the old-fashioned curriculum can enjoy the best version ever of the Periodic Table, that from Tom Weller’s “Science Made Stupid”, at: .

  5. Frightening how many countries are losing their grip on science and reality at present – in the East and West.

  6. I think the suggestion that this is all motivated by anti-Western feeling is spot-on. Indians feel like they would be a superpower had it not been for the British, so they despise British scientists like Faraday and Darwin, and they dislike Western culture in general. So this is probably a fruit of Modi’s nationalism.
    This will be ruinous for their future, of course, since the economic growth of any nation obviously depends on a great level of scientific knowledge. I don’t even want to think of how this is going to affect their environment, already one of the most polluted on Earth.

  7. Allow me to give a shout-out to the USA educational system, at least the one here in northeastern Illinois. My children were exposed to forces, energies (potential and kinetic), elements, and evolution in the intermediate and middle grades. The goal was scientific literacy for every student, and the schools reached that goal with my kids. Furthermore, my kids grew up watching PBS, including its science shows Wild Kratts (zoology); Ready, Jet, Go! (astronomy); and Dinosaur Train (paleontology), among others. Those shows also exposed them to scientific concepts and thinking. Well done when it comes to science education, USA!

        1. While there may be a a lot to criticize about Bill Nye, he had genuinely positive influence on both the perception of science and the understanding of basic concepts among younger kids. Younger kids are not ready, in most cases, for the subtleties. They thrive on fact and memorization as a base to build on.

          He’s not my favourite, but most of the criticisms I see are really looking from the point of teaching adults and older kids than were the target of his show.

    1. Do you remember at what grade the periodic table was introduced, Stephen? I remember a systematic drill into it in Grade 12 Chemistry where we learned why the periodicity happened as orbitals filled up. Our teacher taught us the mnemonic, “Little Betty Boop . . .” but I’m pretty sure I’d heard previously of how memorizing which elements had how much “valence” was incomplete. The Table was always up on the wall in all the science classrooms so I probably sussed it out myself.. No chemistry in Grade 11, just Physics. Science-bound students took both in Grade 13, with 2 or 3 Maths including calculus. Did Grade 10 Science—the omission in India— use the Periodic Table? Can’t remember.

      1. If I remember correctly, the Periodic Table was introduced in sixth grade. I seem to remember one of my sons talking to me about ionic and chemical bonds before Grade 6, though he could have gotten that knowledge from an online resource he used in school and at home, namely, BrainPop. (Again, kudos to the educational system for providing us with this excellent online resource.)
        The deep dive into it wasn’t until high school, specifically Grade 10. Like you, I remember the table posted in all the science classrooms.

      2. Modern Periodic Law in India has usually been taught in 11th grade. I learnt it then only. Course load till 10th was extremely light, non rigrous, non maths based.. And 11th was science in its full rigorous calculus based glory.

        The jump was phenomenal and I still remember my books for going from quarter an inch thick to full 2-3 inch thick. Till 10th, we could replace our science books with an encyclopedia and would have done fine. In 11th, it was like Dorothy stepping into the land of oz.

        Reason being, to maximize the number of students passing 10th grade (without committing suicide) so politicians could pat themselves on their back for making India literate faster.

  8. Take away such foundational ideas in the sciences, and what’s left in the curriculum?

    I can understand not covering these subjects in detail until you take grade 11/12 level specialized courses, but everyone should at least be aware of them, even if they have no interest in pursuing STEM fields.

    1. Oh don’t worry they are. These things are present in books in previous grades too. As small inserts. They are touched upon but not evaluated upon.

      Science till 10th is “Encylopedia/Bill Nye” Science.
      Science in 11th and 12th grade is full mathematics and calculus based “hard” science with a rigorous proof based approach. Excuse the pun.

  9. Assuming this is a reactionary policy against the West as many have suggested, it takes the expression of “cutting off your nose to spite your face” to a whole new level.

    And the crazy thing about getting rid of the periodic table, evolution, energy, etc., there is no substitute, and these disciplines are foundational. How can you build knowledge without a foundation?

    And I have a feeling that well-off Indians will have a work around (maybe private tutors or sending kids abroad for their education.) If you’re poor, you’re screwed.

    1. They will probably teach kids that the four elements are Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire. And yes, I suspect wealthy Indians will send their kids to the UK.

  10. “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. A chapter on different sources of energy — from fossil fuels to renewables — has also been removed.

    It isn’t hard to guess what’s going on with these two. Modi represents “liberal theocracy”, where “liberal” means preaching free market capitalism, but actually practicing crony capitalism. (As per usual with non-theocratic versions, but I digress.) Corporate allies don’t want to curb pollution, or to have to adapt to new energy sources. Privatize profit, socialize costs: that’s the modus operandi.

  11. So after reading all of the comments, the article and tweets of Richard Dawkins, i found a lot of ignorance.

    I want to highlight the fact that the mentioned things were not removed from whole syllabus, it has shifted to another class/grade.
    So, student will learn what they want to learn.

    The class/grade system is not same as people judging here with their system but i will try to give some facts here. Upto class 10, everyone has to learn all the given subjects. After class 10, one has to choose two language subject compulsory, four specialization subject, can include any combination of subjects from arts, science. For instance you can choose to learn geography, math, physics, chemistry. Final marks will be awarded on the basis of best five subject scored. Then after class 12, there is subject specialization which is called graduation, which involves one honours subject with two general subjects, for instance Math(h), physics, chemistry. Then comes post graduation and research.

    1. Like everyone else, you apparently didn’t read my posts. The shifting of the requirements entails, AS YOU SHOW, that these subjects are encountered only by those who specialize in science. I never said that things were removed, but clearly stated in both of my posts that they were MOVED. And they were moved to deprive non-specializing students from accessing science.

      As for “ignorance,” well, you’re rude and have broken the Roolz (see the posting rules to the left, which you apparently also didn’t read).

  12. What’s that legal Latin? Cui bono?

    (One would think those topics [pollution, energy & water sources] would be relevant in a country as crowded as India.)

    I’d make a safe guess that people or companies (potentially) involved in polluting activities would be high on the list of “usual suspects” to round up.

  13. As a Agnostic Hindu Indian and a long time fan of Dawkins and a student of Evolution, its extremely sad to see how easily Richard Dawkins has been fooled by this factually incorrect and misleading article, and then he added his own confirmation bias on top of it. The Indian Govt made only some minor administrative changes which put teaching of evolution to a year later in school. This had no sinister govt intent. Evolution is still being taught and infact at a far more in-depth and comprehensive level than many western countries. Hindus have never opposed Evolution. Yes we have creation stories, but they are allegorical and don’t have the literal make or break status in our religion like they do with Christianity and Islam. Despite the attempts by the mischevious left in India n propagated by their allies in the international media, Evolution is not a threat to the Hindu worldview. Our central motto, is let noble truths come from all directions. and there’s nothing nobler than scientific truths. In fact it is the Indian left who’s main support base is Muslim’s and Christian’s you should be worried about. They would sacrifice evolution or any other principal in a heartbeat if it meant getting not alienating their key constituency.

    1. You apparently missed the part in the Nature article (and my piece) which in fact verifies what you said. Evolution was moved to a grade where only specialists in biology or other sciences can learn about it. Below grade 11 they can’t. That’s a very important shift as most kids will never learn about evolution!

      All the many Indian people who have written me seem to have missed this fact. Why do you suppose that many Indian academics like Amitabh Joshi are strongly opposed to this change?

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