Published: 03rd June 2023
Missing elements: NCERT’s removal of Periodic Table from Class X textbooks & its implications
Subjects like Math, History and Social Science are undergoing significant pruning, an entire chapter on the Periodic Table has been removed from Class X syllabus by NCERT this week
The ongoing efforts to streamline the syllabus for CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) board students have ignited a heated debate on the merits of reducing course content. While subjects like Math, History and Social Science are undergoing significant pruning, an entire chapter on the periodic table has been removed from the Class X syllabus by NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) this week – raising concerns about crucial knowledge gaps in basic scientific concepts. These developments beg the question: how will these inclusions and exclusions reshape students' academic pursuits?
One cannot help but question the reasoning behind such a decision. "Knowing the elements is the bedrock of Chemistry; how will students ever be able to solve equations without this fundamental knowledge?" laments Ayan Ashraf, a determined Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) aspirant hailing from Bihar, following the CBSE board. While his words resonate with concerns within the collective consciousness of several people across the nation; however, does the true gravity of this extends beyond a mere analysis of academic subjects or individual curricula?
Amidst the uproar, the NCERT has sought to justify these changes by citing the mental health of students during the pandemic as the primary motivation. In a tweet posted, today, June 3, Saturday, the agency responded to media reports, dismissing them as "misleading & factually incorrect". They emphasised that the rationalisation of textbooks was a necessary measure aimed at reducing the content load. The intention, as they asserted, was to alleviate the burden on students in light of the challenging circumstances brought about by the pandemic.
However, this explanation has failed to assuage the concerns voiced by experts like Dr Rajesh Thakur, a Math educator, who fears that the diluted content in the rationalised books compromises the very essence of the subject. In a direct response to the NCERT's tweet, he warns, "Till the pandemic, it was fine, but in the name of reducing the burden, the soul of Math has been compromised. No doubt it will increase the pass percentage in schools, but students' knowledge will be minimal." (sic)
If a comparison is drawn between the predominant education boards of the country, the CBSE and the ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education), it can be concluded that both boards offer different structures of learning.
In the ICSE board, the periodic table is introduced in Class VIII and reinforced in subsequent classes. On the other hand, the CBSE board introduced this subject matter at the Class X level but has now abandoned it under the new rationalised syllabus. Additionally, while the CBSE combines Chemistry, Physics and Biology into a single 100-mark paper until Class X, the ICSE boards maintain separate 100-mark papers for each of the three subjects. Consequently, the transition from Class X to Class XI becomes a formidable challenge for CBSE students, as they face a significant leap compared to their ICSE counterparts.
In an article by The Quint, Apoorvanand states that the central government’s real aim for rationalising the syllabus is to “drop ‘reason’ from the textbooks”. However, as critical as it is to question the removal of crucial topics like Darwin's theory, democracy and the Periodic Table, it begs to question — even with the topics included, did our education system successfully achieve what it was aiming to? Does the exclusion of these topics mean that CBSE students will fall behind in their ability to think critically? Or the real concern lies elsewhere? Let’s hear it from students, teachers, parents and experts.
The periodic chaos
Pranshu Shaleen, a JEE aspirant and a former student of DAV Public School, Malighat, Muzaffarpur, Bihar says that the exclusion doesn’t make any difference, as he states that the basics of Chemistry in Class XI begins with familiarising oneself with the historical evolution of the Periodic Table with gradual learning of Dobereiner’s Law of Triads, Mendeleev’s Periodic Table, Moseley’s Periodic Table and so on. “The students of Class X need to know nothing except the KLMN atomic configuration and learning till the 20th element of the Periodic Table is enough.”
The student further states, “The information provided by the NCERT Class XI books is quite self-sufficient.” Although talking about the sudden changes that are being introduced, he said, “The officials are not really making the changes that would count. Redesigning the whole syllabus would have been much more beneficial for the students instead of tweaking things.”
Shubhang Sheel, another JEE aspirant and a former student of the Doon School, Dehradun on a similar note calls the move by NCERT as “inaffecting” and says that in Class X there are no such proper explanations on the Periodic Table that would be of any advantage to the student.
He further mentions that Chemistry in Class XI starts with basic calculations of Chemistry, mole concept, atomic structure, chemical bonding and the Periodic Table, without which, one won’t be able to understand the concepts of organic chemistry. The difficult concepts are delved into gradually which requires understanding rather than rote learning.
He says, “Teaching a tenth grader such concepts at an early age is rather excessive and it is delusional to expect a student to grasp the theoretical concepts involving the chapter at such an age. The only thing required of them is to learn the valency and to understand the concepts associated with chemical bonding and that needs nothing but literal memorisation.”
But he emphasises the fact that not having any exposure to the knowledge of what is it and the elements might be stunting the student’s knowledge.
Tharangini R, a Chartered Accountant and mother of Manish Muthukumar, a Class XII student says that such exclusions are rather good, as the portion that is repetitive can be eliminated in order to reduce the child’s burden. She further adds, “The students at this age aren’t even mature yet so they might not fully grasp the deeper concepts. Later with gradual learning, they might be able to understand it in a better way.”
Although when asked if there would be a significant gap in the level of learning and that too by a year, she replies, “Maybe rather than fully excluding, the teacher could give a brief introduction in order to make it easier to start with newer concepts in Class XI.”
Few parents are not welcoming of the decision. Karanam Naga Sandhya, teacher and mother of Sai Sharanam, a Class X student, questions the decision taken by NCERT and calls them “baseless” and “harmful”.
“The reason they based these decisions off is the fact that it reduces the overall burden on the students. This will indeed be an effect of doing so, but at what cost? Basic understanding of the Periodic Table is the basis of any and all chemistry — why chemicals interact, their classifications and properties, just to list a few. Without this basis what's the point of learning rote chemistry?”
She stresses the fact that such exclusions might deter a student from gaining an overall knowledge about Science and makes students less prepared for other competitive examinations held on national and international scale.
Are experts contented?
Sonal Goyal who has been teaching for the past 15 years at her own coaching facility, Vaagdevi Tuitions in Hyderabad, says that NCERT is covering the syllabus “haphazardly” and is following no system, regarding the recent rationalisation of the syllabus.
“The decision seems like it isn’t well-planned and not systematic, as students require a great depth of understanding such as the periodic table and they should start learning at an age where they start to comprehend these concepts easily. The process should be gradual and not sudden.” She also opines that even if students learn it again, it would be nothing but revision and that is not harmful for the students as compared to the exclusion.
The NCERT had deemed that the rationalisation of the syllabus is nothing but a move to ensure the well-being of students, a decision taken after evaluating the post-pandemic scenario. Dr Poonam Batra, Professor of Education, formerly with the Department of Education, Delhi University (DU) speaks on the dilution of the curriculum and why the move is not appreciated by educators. She says, “The argument that NCERT gives about deleting certain portions and lessening the burden of children is problematic and not valid.”
Prof Batra’s contentions are that the NCERT books when designed and written back in 2005, were written in such a manner so as to make the matter in the textbooks more engaging, rather than presenting chunks of information. She states, “When a textbook is written using a pedagogic approach, the goal is to engage students and teachers alike. It is about how to transact curriculum, engage students in co-constructing knowledge and not about transmitting information.” For Prof Batra, a curriculum is not bound by textbooks but something that is constructed in a classroom, where students and teachers get the freedom to go beyond the textbook.
The professor further talks about the problems that children might face in school. She asserts, “The problems that children primarily face is of poor teaching and guidance and not of more information.” The Yashpal Committee Report, 1993, noted that, “Most instrumentalities of our education harm the potential of the human mind for constructing and creating new knowledge. We have emphasised the delivery of information and rewarded the capability of storing information. This does not help in creating a knowledge society.”
Prof Batra harks on how such unmindful deletions will not only dilute engagement within different levels, as the children move from primary to secondary and then higher-secondary, but also hinder their cognitive development and the capacity to think logically and critically with reason.
Challenging the paradigm
"I firmly believe that the sociological aspects outweigh the emphasis on scientific concepts in the early years of education," asserts Adrish Bhattacharya, a student of IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Lucknow and a former student of Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST), Shibpur. "It is rationality that gives birth to science, not the other way around. Merely removing the periodic table would have minimal impact. What truly matters is instilling a scientific temper, a thirst for exploration and the ability to think critically."
In a world where engineering and science courses are sought after by individuals in developing and underdeveloped countries as pathways to economic stability, Adrish challenges the notion that studying science is solely about survival and calls for a paradigm shift. He states, “Science education alone cannot eradicate the unscientific and dogmatic aspects of our thinking." According to him, school years are a time for exploration, for delving into the realms of knowledge that lie beyond the rigid curriculum. “Create space for analytical skills, exploration of biases and learning from mistakes,” he says.
In an era where students may remember everything yet learn nothing, Adrish highlights the shortcomings of an education system that breeds memorisation without true comprehension. "Students may remember historical events in minute detail, yet fail to recognise the patterns unfolding around them," he laments as he notes that both ICSE and CBSE cover the topic of Hitler, but in both cases, students come out without the ability to detect fascist tendencies in front of them. "Biased propaganda blinds them to alternative perspectives. We must address these systemic issues that perpetuate ignorance and misperception."
This plea goes beyond mere educational reform but transforms into a call for a fundamental reevaluation of the quality of teaching. With a piercing gaze into the heart of the education system, one can say that the path ahead lies in nurturing critical thinking, encouraging intellectual curiosity and empowering students to challenge the world around them. In Adrish's words, "It is not about the inclusion or exclusion of specific topics in the curriculum; it is about revolutionising the very essence of how we teach. Only then can we stir the ability to inquire and equip our future generations to navigate a world shrouded in complexity."