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From 'Pseudoscientific' Chandrayaan Modules To Adulation For Nazi Scientist, NCERT Faces Flak Yet Again

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has continuously faced criticism lately over the deletion of content from textbooks to recommendations that appear to be politically-motivated.

NCERT textbooks at Sadar Bazaar, Delhi
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In the latest episode of controversies involving the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), scientists have called out a series of modules around India's Chandrayaan space mission for peddling pseudoscience and mythology.

The Chandrayaan-3, which landed on Moon on August 23, made India only the fourth country in the world to land on the Moon and the first country ever to land on the Lunar South Pole region. To promote the scientific milestone, the NCERT has published 10 modules that cover aspects like the science behind the mission, India's space programme, and the country's Moon missions.

The modules have, however, come under criticism for peddling myths and sharing unproven and discredited theories. For example, the module titled 'Bharat's Chandrayaan Mission' says space engineering can be found in an ancient Indian text called 'Vymaanika Shastra (Science of Aeronautics)'. The text is often cited as a sign that ancient Indians had a notion of spacefaring or aerospace/aeronautical engineering, but a study by Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, has shown that the text is not ancient and was in fact written sometime during 1900-22 and contains unworkable designs and theories.

The criticism of Chandrayaan modules also comes around the time when a government committee has suggested to replace 'India' with 'Bharat' in social sciences textbooks up to class 12. The suggestion has come to light just a month after heated political exchanges between the Union government and the Opposition over the push for 'Bharat' over 'India' around the time of G-20 Summit.

Here we take a look at the flak that the NCERT has got over Chandrayaan mission and the push for 'Bharat'.

Criticism of NCERT over Chandrayaan modules

The Chandrayaan-3 space mission and the broader Lunar Programme of India have been cheered as the pinnacle of the Indian space programme. The moment Vikram lander touched down on Moon has been hailed as India's Appollo moment, India's tryst with destiny.

To appreciate such scientific achievement, NCERT released 10 modules. Instead of being praised for instilling scientific temperament, the modules have landed criticism for NCERT as complaints of pseudoscience and mythology being peddled were raised.

All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN) said that "many scientific and technical errors" and "pseudo-scientific claims and misleading scientific content" were made in the 10 modules released by NCERT. It also criticised the modules for talking about "flying chariots" in Hindu epics and ancient texts of Vedas.

The AIPSN also criticised the adulation that Nazi space-engineer Wernher von Braun has received in one of the modules.

The NCERT module cites 'Vymaanika Shastra (Science of Aeronautics)', 'Pushpak Vimana' mentioned in the Ramayana, and other flying chariots in the Vedas as signs that the notion of space engineering or aerospace engineering has been in India since ancient days. The text 'Vymaanika Shastra (Science of Aeronautics)' has, however, been debunked as not being workable. A paper by five Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, experts concluded that the designs in the text were an "impossibility" and that the text and the drawings in the text don't correlate with each other.

The designs in the text are at best "poor concoctions, rather than expressions of something real", noted the IISc paper.

"None of the planes has properties or capabilities of being flown; the geometries are unimaginably horrendous from the point of view of flying; and the principles of propulsion make then resist rather than assist flying," said the study further.

Moreover, the NCERT module titled 'Physics of Chandrayaan-3' terms Nazi rocket expert Wernher von Braun as 'Father of Rocketry', a title usually given to American rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard. Von Braun is a deeply controversial figure who remained a Nazi until 1945 and was brought to the United States to drive the US rocketry programme. The NCERT's adulatory language for a known Nazi scientist has also irked people.

"As we delve deeper into this cosmic odyssey, we cannot help but be inspired by the indomitable spirit of Wernher von Braun (father of rocket science), the visionary engineer who transformed dreams of reaching the stars into tangible rockets that breached Earth’s atmosphere. His towering achievements turned the boundless expanse of space into an attainable frontier, where humanity’s yearning for exploration could take flight," says the NCERT module about Von Braun, a Nazi part of the institution that killed around 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. 

Push for 'Bharat' in NCERT textbooks

The controversy over the Chandrayaan modules of the NCERT has come around the time when it has also come to light that a committee set up to look into NCERT books has recommended the usage of 'Bharat' over 'India'.

"The committee for revising the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has suggested that ‘India’ should be called as ‘Bharat’ in all Social Science textbooks up to Class 12...The committee has also suggested replacing the ‘ancient history’ with ‘classical period of Indian history’. He [committee’s chairman CI Issac] also added that the Committee has agreed to add more about Indian Knowledge System in the curriculum to teach more about achievements, history and culture of the country," reported The Indian Express.

The recommendation comes weeks after a huge political confrontation and nationwide debate over the purported push for 'Bharat' over 'India', with rumours also going around that the name of the nation may be formally changed. However, none of that happened and the heated debates died down within weeks.

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Issac further told The Express, "Currently there is no mention of post-Independence history in NCERT books, so we have suggested that historical events that took place from 1947 till now should also be introduced, and the number of hours allocated for pre-independence can be reduced."

Issac is wrong to say that NCERT textbook lack post-Independence content. There are full-fledged chapters in NCERT textbooks on post-Independence politics and history of the country, which cover everything from the formation of Indian states, language movements in the South, the fall of Congress hegemony, and the Emergency of 1975.

The continuing controversies of NCERT

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The controversies around the Chandrayaan modules and the push for 'Bharat' are only the latest in the line of controversies that NCERT has found itself in.

The NCERT has long been criticised for the systemic removal of deletions from textbooks of social sciences and science. For example, large portions related to the Mughals and Muslim dynasties have been deleted and science books have also seen the removal of content as basic as evolution and periodic table.

A review of the revised NCERT syllabus reveals following deletions in textbooks: In class 7 history textbook, Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals saw major deletions; In class 11 history textbook, chapter on Islamic history was removed entirely; In Class 12 history book, full chapters on the Mughal courts and culture and Partition were removed. Moreover, any negative mention of Mahatma Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse and Gujarat Riots of 2002 were also removed quietly from the textbooks.

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In class 12 history textbook, Godse's background, the fact that the then-Union government cracked down on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after Gandhi's assassination, and the fact that Gandhi stood for Hindu-Muslim unity and opposed Hindu majoritarianism after Independence have all been removed, reported The Indian Express earlier this year, adding that these removals were "quiet" and were not specified in publicly-disclosed revisions beforehand.

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