Scientists in India have expressed their dismay at a decision to remove the discussion of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution from textbooks used by millions of ninth and 10th grade students. Over 4,000 researchers and others have signed an open letter asking officials to reinstate the material. The Breakthrough Science Society, a nonprofit group, launched the letter on 20 April after learning that the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an autonomous government organization that sets curricula and publishes textbooks for India’s 256 million primary and secondary students, had made the move as part of a “content rationalization” process.
Evolutionary biologist Amitabh Joshi of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research described the decision as making “a travesty of the notion of a well-rounded secondary education”. Other researchers fear it signals an increasing fondness for pseudoscience by Indian officials. One primary concern is that the majority of Indian students will receive no exposure to the concept of evolution if it is removed from the ninth and tenth-grade curriculum since they do not study biology in later stages of education.
“Evolution is perhaps the most important part of biology that all educated citizens should be aware of,” said Joshi, “It speaks directly to who we are, as humans, and our position within the living world.” Despite growing opposition, however, there is “not much hope” that NCERT “will suddenly admit the mistake and revisit the decision,” according to Aniket Sule, an astronomer and science advocate at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education. Biologist Satyajit Rath, former president of the All India Peoples Science Network, is also pessimistic.
Joshi remains hopeful that the pressure will prompt other government officials to intervene. He said that other organizations, including the Indian Academy of Sciences, have expressed their concerns to senior government officials.
NCERT’s decision comes against a backdrop of what some perceive as a rising influence of pseudoscience in India. Researchers and politicians associated with conservative Hindu organizations have expressed doubts about evolution and promoted unsupported claims that ancient Indians built spacecraft and conducted stem cell research. Some observers fear that India’s move could encourage evolution deniers in adjoining nations, including Pakistan, where biology textbooks carry warnings that readers will “encounter the theory of evolution—but you are advised not to believe it because it is unscientific, lacks proof, and goes against Islam”.