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[NEW DELHI] A 30-year-old programme that attempted to reshape school science education in India has been abruptly terminated, sparking off an intense protest by scientists.

A web-based petition has now been drawn up, which intends to pressure the state government to reverse its decision. It says that the "steps taken by the government are extremely shocking and disappointing to many educationists and intellectuals, both within and outside India" and asks for an independent body of scientists and educationists to be brought in to review the programme.

Leading the campaign is M. G. K. Menon, internationally renowned physicist and former science minister, who is "deeply saddened and shocked" at the decision to close down the programme "without any public debate or discussion".

The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) is an attempt to replace textbook-centred science education using learning through experiments instead. Launched in 1972 in 16 schools in Hoshangabad district in the state of Madhya Pradesh, HSTP now reaches 100,000 children.

"HSTP students don't memorise scientific definitions, theories or laws but discover such knowledge for themselves," says Ashok Raina, a spokesman for Eklavya, the non-governmental organisation that has been implementing the programme since 1982 with state funding.

But in July, the state education department ordered the programme's closure based on an internal assessment. Chief minister Singh subsequently confirmed this action by ordering that all schools follow "one curriculum, one textbook and the same examination".

Many scientists believe that the much-acclaimed science teaching programme is a victim of state politics rather than suffering from poor performance. Indeed, a review in 1991 recommended that all schools in the state adopted the HSTP approach.

"It will be truly ironic and a tragedy if the (Congress) party of Jawaharlal Nehru, who embodied the vision of scientific India, should close such an innovative science programme," said Indian physicist Vikram Vyas who is at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, in a letter to chief minister Singh.

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