Thursday, 19 November 2009

Humanists4Science welcomes new legislation for the teaching of evolution in primary schools

Humanists4Science welcomes new legislation, introduced today, on primary curriculum reform in England, which introduces compulsory teaching of evolution to ages 5-11 year old children.

Chris Street (pictured) reports that following Humanist4Science July 2009 proposals to the Government, legislation was introduced today (11 November 2009), to make evolution compulsory and explicitly taught to children aged 5-11 years in Primary Schools.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (19 November 2009) press release states that Evolution will be compulsory in the Primary curriculum from September 2011.

However the Humanists4Science proposal for compulsory teaching of  'The Scientific Method' in Primary Schools, was not taken up.

In July 2009 Chris Street authored the Humanists4Science submission to the Primary Curriculum reform consultation by Jim Rose.

Chris Street of the Humanists4Science group said "this is brilliant news because now children will learn about evolution as early as five years rather than when they are fourteen. I met Desmond Swayne MP on 10 July to discuss teaching evolution in Primary Schools  and he who wrote to Diana Johnson MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary for State for Schools at the DCSF). I think Humanists4Science have had a direct input into successfully changing National Primary School curriculum legislation."

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, said, ‘It is fantastic to hear final confirmation that, for the first time, evolution will now be included in the national primary curriculum. Evolution is arguably the most important concept underlying the life sciences. That it had not originally been included in the revised primary curriculum was of great concern and we are pleased to see that has now been rectified.’, 19 November 2009, Major reform to curriculum at the heart of a renewed push to drive up standards.
sourceHumanists4Science submission to the Jim Rose Primary Curriculum reform consultation.

Department for Children Schools and Families Press Release

The Department for Children Schools and Families 19 November 2009 Press Release stated that from September 2011 in Primary Schools:-
"Evolution made compulsory and importance of British history confirmed in new areas of learning"

"Schools Minister Vernon Coaker has today confirmed plans to bring in a new curriculum to shake-up primary education – with overwhelming support from pupils, parents, teachers and experts."
"New legislation introduced today on primary curriculum reform in England will drive up education standards across the board. Vernon Coaker confirmed that evolution will become a compulsory part of science education"
"Due to the positive response to Jim Rose’s proposals, few changes were made to the proposed Areas of Learning. However, after consulting with parents, teachers, the science community and other interested parties, pupils will be expected to explicitly cover evolution as part of their learning. Learning about evolution is an important part of science education, and pupils already learn about it at secondary school."

The independent review of the primary curriculum, the first in ten years, was led by educational expert Sir Jim Rose and began in spring 2008. The new legislation is based on his report, which sought the views of teachers, parents, pupils and subject experts and took over a year to complete. The Government accepted Jim Rose’s recommendations in full in April this year. The BHA, Humanists4Science and others commented on his review by 24 July 2009.

  • in the Science, Life and Living sections include:-
    • Charles Darwins’ theory of Evolution by Natural Selection - the single most important idea underlying the life sciences. 
    • how organisms are adapted to their environments and how variation can lead to evolutionary changes.’ 
    • children should understand that, over time, organisms have evolved.
  • the Key Stage 4 curriculum (pg 224) states: -
    • Organisms and health - In their study of science, the following should be covered: 
      • a) organisms are interdependent and adapted to their environments 
      • b) variation within species can lead to evolutionary changes and similarities and differences between species can be measured and classified 
  • Humanists4Science recommend that part of the Key Stage 4 curriculum be included in the later stages of the Primary Curriculum viz. 
    • ‘to apply knowledge and understanding to describe how organisms are adapted to their environments and how variation can lead to evolutionary changes’ 
  • Humanists4Science recommend addition of notes:-
    • L14. to apply knowledge and understanding to describe and explain the structure and function of key human body systems including reproduction 
    • L15. to investigate the structure, function, life cycle and growth of flowering plants and explain how these are linked 
    • L16. to investigate, identify and explain the benefits of micro-organisms and the harm they can cause 
  • Humanists4Science welcome the example of the study of Evolution and Darwin (page 48) included in the report under Cross-curricular studies:-
    • ‘Schools that chose the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth to launch a study of this famous Victorian and his lasting contribution to science included learning about the journeys of the Beagle, mapping the route to the Galapagos Islands and the climate and conditions revealed through the voyage which furnished Darwin with a wealth of evidence for his theory of evolution.‘ 
  • Conclusion: 
    • Humanists4Science consider that Evolution be specifically mentioned in the Primary Curriculum.

Humanists4Science Proposals on Scientific Method.
Humanists4Science proposed (pages 16-17) that the 'scientific method' be included in the Primary curriculum.

We recommended that the scientific and technological curriculum be amended to:-

Pupils develop valuable skills in applying scientific method, that is generating and testing ideas, gathering and making sense of evidence, developing possible solutions, and evaluating processes and outcomes. They learn to distinguish evidence from opinion and communicate their findings in a variety of ways."

"essential knowledge should include "a direct reference to the value of science as a way of finding out true facts.

"addition of "how the scientific method enables us to learn truths about reality". Humanists4Science proposed that key skills, taken together, make up the scientific method. and that  scientific method skills are needed by children to make progress:’

"Conclusion: Humanists4Science consider that Scientific Method be specifically mentioned in the Primary Curriculum."

Submission by Humanists4Science

Who are Humanists4Science?
Humanists4Science (H4S) group is for humanists with an active interest in science. We believe that science is a fundamental part of humanism but also that it should be directed to humane and ethical ends. Science is, in our view, more a method than a body of facts. H4S seek to promote, within the humanist community and beyond, the application of the scientific method to issues of concern to broader society.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Can science remove the death penalty?

Humanists have been opposed to the death penalty for many decades and in most of the world public opinion has moved our way. Most opposition to the death penalty is moral - we think it's wrong. However, people also oppose this penalty because we seem, too often, to execute the wrong person. And here science, specifically forensic science, can make a contribution.

Today's Guardian reports that even in Texas support for the death penalty is declining. Juries are more reluctant to issue death sentences and some prosecutors are less willing to ask for them and Mark White, a former pro-death governor has called for change. According to the Guardian's Chris McGreal these changes are due a stream of cases in which convicted murderers, some on death row, have been shown to be innocent. Nationally there have been nearly 140 such cases.

In most of these cases the new evidence has come from DNA testing. The academic science of life has indeed brought life to some convicts. This science has changed minds that had proven immune to the appeals of compasion. 

This is a point with broad application. Many important moral and political issues have been the subject of excited debate for years, even decades. Some, perhaps, appear settled. But for most people, and especially for humanists, the morality of a personal action or public policy depends on its consequences. Consequences are matters of fact and thus amenable to science. 

Humanists4Science believes that all policy decisions should be based on the best available evidence. We also believe that if the evidence is rubbish the government has a duty to fund research that will produce better evidence. The story of the death penalty shows that this is not only intellectually sound but politically realistic - if very slow!