Science and Famous Scientists

As part of my interest in high school education, I have been checking out prescribed textbooks in Indian schools. Take for instance the Science and Technology textbook for the 10th grade. The book that I am examining is published by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

Written by thirteen authors and six editors, it is a volume of about 230 pages. The foreword first:

During the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a tremendous advancement in Science and Technology, which has affected the quality of human life to a great extent. The future citizens of the country can reap the fruits of this advancement if they are conversant with different aspects of Science and Technology (sic) . . .

I spent some time looking through the book. It is distressing to see the awful quality of the book. The subjects are totally unmotivated and lack coherence. The matter is dry and in some places actually wrong.

It purports to be a book about science and technology. Nowhere do they even ever try to distinguish between the two. In the section called “Evolution,” it even gets the basic fact about Darwin’s contribution to evolution wrong. I cannot actually do a full review of the book because it is too depressing for me. But I have confirmed my suspicion that it is the poor quality of the teaching material that is partly to blame for the dismal quality of our educational system. Of course, lousy teaching just compounds the problem.

I am working on figuring out a better way of delivering education. I have written a bit about it on this blog. More to come later. But before I go, I cannot resist the temptation to point out some unintended humor in this rather tragic subject. The science text book for grade six is called “Science Ahead.” The authors are Anton Siromani and Vandana Tirath both of Delhi Public School, and E Doris James of Sacred Heart High School in Chennai. I mention these worthies by name deliberately.

Right in the start of the book, they have a page titled “Famous Scientists.” The page has a dozen or so pictures of notables of scientists from around the world. They are, in the order of their appearance on the page, JC Bose, CV Raman, Homi Bhabha, —–, Archimedes, Galileo Galilee, Issac Newton, Michael Faraday, Madame Curie, Albert Einstein, Alexander Fleming. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to fill in the blank Indian world-class scientist.

Post Script: Here is the answer to the missing scientist.

Author: Atanu Dey


13 thoughts on “Science and Famous Scientists”

  1. Raja Ramanna? Yeah ….but NCERT and CBSE textbooks are the best available in India.There are many authors for a particular book and the quality is not that bad.But my opinion is based on my 11/12 Physics textbooks which were good.If you consider text books in the state level,it is usually a one man army writing/copying whatever he wants.

    Could you care to comment about the “HIS STORY” textbooks? History was taught by the most incompetent teachers at my school.

    Classroom should have good multi-media tools(and also use them ) to provide illustrations as an aid to teaching.This can help compensate some of the “lousy” teaching.It is impossible to have good teachers in all schools.


  2. There are many of us who feel so very strongly about the poor quality of education in India, especially those who have spent some time abroad and have realized some of the mertis of teaching methods based on explaining concepts and their application through examples/problems. This type of teaching overlaid on the rote method used in India could prove to be a powerful combination.

    And this is something I think the rest of us can actually do something about. How about if someone sets up a website resource (a high school ‘wik-indi-pedia’ of sorts) for the sole purpose of further elucidating the material in nationwide textbooks (eg. CBSE curriculum).

    The site can endeavor to make learning fun by by using animation, pictures, clips, java applet graphing, etc to explain the concepts behind the subject matter. It is of course very important that the site cover the exact same curricula in the textbooks, maybe even in the same sequence (albeit in a more interesting way), so that students using the website instead of the textbook may still be able to perform well in the type of examinations administered in India. This is of course because the future of students in India depends so very heavily on their final board exams and the website should be crafted in a way that should not interefere with the ability of students to do well on these tests.

    I think there are enough of us out there who would contribute a chapter/lesson or two, to feel good about having done something for the next generation. Of course the website may not be immediately usable by less fortuate students without access to a computer but hopefully some day it will be.


  3. I am guessing its our esteemed President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Coming out of Delhi it would be awfully P in.C to not include him especially for the babus at NCERT.

    If that’s not the case then my second guess would be Vikram Sarabhai.

    I didn’t study in the central govt. schools and I feel that textbooks for our schools in Maharastra used to be good. I didn’t even know that there is subject called “science and technology”. For us it used to plain old Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Also I felt that textbooks for junior college, especially the physics and chemistry ones that I used, were OK if not world class.

    But overall I agree that quality of textbooks needs to be improved. I can’t understand why our government and its agencies want to be involved in developing and printing these textbooks either.


  4. Sad, very sad. I haven’t seen this book but can fully imagine what it is like having seen several of its siblings.

    The mediocrity continues through primary school into the universities. Graduate education in India, as a whole is pathetic and desperately needs improvement.

    Abdul Kalam is no doubt a great man: accomplished, hardworking, honest to a fault, inspiring and humble to name a few. I read an article a few years ago about the sole Ph.D. student he was continuing to advise when he took up the presidency, Father George. Here are the topics student and professor discussed for a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering at Anna University:

    1. Information Security in the Internet Concerning the Defence Field
    2. Making the Most Modern Electronic Techniques Available Today to Villagers
    3. How to Prevent Ageing
    4. How to Transfer Data from Brain to Brain
    5. Curing Mentally Retarded Children

    In the spirit of your post, I leave it as an exercise to to figure out what the talented duo decided on.


  5. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise. NCERT textbooks have always been piles of tripe. I can understand the (generally) low standard of teaching — good teachers are hard to come by. But blatant inaccuracy in a textbook is inexcusable.

    Incidentally, I’ve noticed the same sort of irresponsible, incoherent rambling in a lot of newspapers, too. I wonder what the root cause of the phenomenon is.


  6. One might think that the poor quality of textbooks is due to lack of competition. However, in Maharashtra (where I studied), I remember there were books by three/four authors for 11/12 science subjects and all of them were junk.

    Things are even worser in college science textbooks. I remember a textbook where the author had copied verbatim from a standard relativity text. He had changed the labelling in the diagram from (a,b,c,d) to (p,q,r,s) while the text still referred to it by the labels (a,b,c,d).

    Wiki has recently launched an initiative for open source textbooks. This would be a good solution. Wherever the textbook requires “customization” to a country, it could still be done by a peer process of contributors from that country.


  7. Yes Friends ! I agree fully with you . I studied my class X & XI, XII not from NCERT , Thank God . Thanks to God , Because Now itself I am reviewing these Textbooks out of my own interest and at every moment, I feel that , Had I studied the way these books are, I can’t imagine where could have I been ? If I don’t exaggerate , I might claim that I have got better idea of Basic science being a Trainee from some reputed institute related to Air Force. Now there are two questions with NCERT BOOKS – i)Does the study material itself need be completely overhauled ? or
    ii)The system of imparting education itself be repaired to achieve the goal ?
    In my opinion , Both the things needs be taken care of immediately.But the priority lies with the 2nd question. Let’s do something . With the ideas available with me , I have written a letter to the President of India and waiting for reply from him so that these ideas could be implemented at a macro level .Otherwise I will start the same at Micro level in very near future , You will learn it. The next – I request the contributors to post the ideas / suggestions which can benefit our future generations . Thanks .


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