CBSE's Deletion of Chapters on Ecology, Evolution During Pandemic 'Ironic,' Say Biologists

"A direct consequence of our neglect of ecology and evolution is the relative paucity of epidemiologists in India."

New Delhi: The Indian Society of Evolutionary Biologists has come down heavily on the Central Board of Secondary Education’s decision to scrap chapters on evolution and ecology in order to tackle the lag in lessons caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The curtailment of entire chapters that deal with the foundation of knowledge that can ultimately help understand a zoonotic pandemic such as COVID-19, in an ostensible effort to deal with the pandemic itself, is “dangerously tragic” and “ironic,” said the statement released by the Society.

“A direct consequence of our neglect of ecology and evolution is the relative paucity of epidemiologists in India,” the statement noted.

Also read: Chapters on Citizenship, Secularism, Federalism Scrapped as CBSE Prunes Syllabus for COVID

The CBSE has “rationalised” the syllabus for classes 9 to 12 for the academic year 2020-21 by up to 30% to make up for academic loss caused due to COVID-19, Union HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal had announced on July 7. Also under the fire has been the decision to entirely do away with chapters on federalism, citizenship, nationalism, and secularism from Class 11’s political science curriculum for this academic year.

The ISEB has advised that instead of slashing entire chapters, reducing the academic load on students by trimming advanced sub-topics from most chapters across the curriculum will prevent them from being shortchanged, such that they still obtain an overall understanding of biology.

The full statement is as follows:

The Indian Society of Evolutionary Biologists has noted with grave concern the recent news about the dropping of entire chapters on the living world (systematics), reproduction in organisms, evolution, ecosystem, and environmental issues from the Biology curricula of CBSE for Classes 10, 11 and 12 during the academic year 2020-21. This is part of a 30% reduction in curricula due to the disruption in academic activities caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

This pandemic has tragically highlighted the consequences of our neglecting to give evolution and ecology their deservedly central position in research and education in biology in India. Understanding practically every aspect of a zoonotic pandemic requires a thorough grounding in diverse areas of ecology and evolution, such as species interactions, population dynamics, coevolutionary dynamics, evolution of host range expansions, transmission dynamics of pathogens, and many others. Indeed, public health in general leans very heavily on many aspects of evolution and ecology, including human ecology, in addition to classical medical science. A direct consequence of our long-standing neglect of ecology and evolution in our biology curricula and research programmes is the relative paucity of epidemiologists in India. This renders the removal of most of evolution and ecology, including systematics and the diversity of life, from the Class 10-12 syllabus not only dangerously tragic, but ironic as well. 

Ecology and evolution are central to any understanding of the living world and, indeed, provide the conceptual framework within which we make sense of the amazing diversity of life-forms and life-processes, at various levels of biological organization. Without ecology and evolution, biology would be little more than a haphazard collection of interesting but unconnected facts. As the Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar said, “For a biologist, the alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all”. 

Societies today face many problems that require a solid and deep foundation in ecology and evolution if we are to have any hope of finding viable solutions to them. For example, crop improvement through animal and plant breeding, assessing the risks of genetically modified organisms, understanding and managing the myriad consequences of climate change and environmental degradation, controlling zoonotic diseases and pandemics, dealing with the evolution of multi-drug resistance in pathogens, managing agricultural and other pests and disease vectors, managing wildlife, ensuring the maintenance of important ecosystem services (e.g. pollination), understanding ageing and so-called life-style diseases, the appropriate use of DNA data for forensics and historical reconstruction, and understanding many aspects of human social behaviour and social pathologies, all require an approach steeped in ecological and evolutionary principles and concepts if we are to deal with them effectively. 

Ecology, evolution and systematics have already been neglected in Indian biology education and research for far too long, with immense detrimental effects on our ability to effectively tackle a wide variety of societal problems. In these times, it is crucial to redress the imbalance in biology education and research, rather than add to it. 

While ISEB appreciates that it might be necessary to reduce the curriculum in these troubled times, we believe that the removal of entire central topics is not the way to achieve that goal. It would be better to reduce the academic load on students by trimming advanced sub-topics from most chapters across the curriculum, such that students still get an overall understanding of biology. In light of the central significance of ecology and evolution to both academic biology and to solving problems challenging our society, ISEB appeals to CBSE to reconsider the present scheme of deletion of entire chapters on ecology and evolution from the biology curricula for Classes 10-12. Students are our future, and depriving them of entire chapters related to ecology, evolution and systematics will be a serious lacuna in their education. ISEB would be happy to help CBSE in this regard. 

Executive Council, ISEB