ID out in Britain’s educational cold, but what of South Africa?

Good news for those of use who believe that what little British schoolchildren get taught in science classes nowadays should actually vaguely resemble science – here’s some choice quotes from some new guidelines (hat-tip to the Panda’s Thumb) regarding the treatment of intelligent design and creationism in science lessons:

Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study.

Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory.

Any resource should be checked carefully before it is used in the classroom. If resources which mention creationism or intelligent design are used, it must be made clear that neither constitutes a scientific theory.

Take-home message: you can only talk about ID or creationism in the context of explaining that inserting ‘designer’ into often-contrived gaps in our understanding of biology or geology is not science. As Julia points out, this is a lesson that many commentators on pieces about this in the media would do well to take on board. I’m very impressed with the whole document, and I hope we can all appreciate the delicious irony of ‘Truth In Science’ having fulfilled their objective of “promoting good science education in the UK”, by kicking off the fuss which forced its production. Mmmm, irony…
This has once more got me wondering about the status of the Evolution/Creationism dust-up here in South Africa. After all, a country notable for its religious conservatism, whose government openly flirts with HIV denialism, is not so very different from a country which is notable for its religious conservatism, and whose government openly flirts with climate change denialism. I can’t really find much except this article, which presents a rather mixed picture:

Mike Schramm, a publishing manager at Nasou Via Afrika, one of the country’s largest school-book publishing companies says: “Evolution is given a great deal of prominence in the grade 12 life sciences curriculum. The subtext is definitely that evolution is the prevailing view.

“Compulsory topics include origin of species, theories of evolution, natural selection and so on.

“In the lower grades the term ‘evolution’ does not appear anywhere in the curriculum, and neither does ‘creation’, but the concepts of natural selection and variation — two key concepts that underpin evolution — are included.”

But the back door is opened by the constructivist educational paradigm that informs the new curriculum.

“Another compulsory topic,” Schramm says, “is ‘beliefs about creation and evolution’.

“Learners are expected to understand that all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is not only changeable, but discovered or created within a context of human belief systems, and this is the place where teachers would typically deal with the evolution and creation debate.

“The curriculum expects an outcome within which learners understand such a context and how new ideas develop, and are adequately prepared to investigate and to debate the relationship of scientific discovery and that broader societal context within which it is made.”

Information about the South African curriculum is a little sparse online, but broadly agrees with the information in the article I’ve quoted. Looking here, if you scroll down to “Diversity, Change and Continuity” you’ll see ‘beliefs in creation and evolution’ and ‘changes of knowledge through contested nature and diverse perceptions of evolution’ under the proposed content for Grades 11 and 12 (ages 17 and 18). In summary then: evolution is in the standards, which is good, but at first glance there is enough latitude in how it is taught to gladden the heart of any creationist. Of course, I think that there are presently some rather more fundamental educational problems which – quite rightly – need to be dealt with before this reaches the top of the concerns list.

Categories: antiscience

Comments (4)

  1. Jason Failes says:

    ID is so backasswards to scientific thought that I am considering promoting it in other (deserving) countries so that Canada can to better by comparison.
    One suspects that people are already operating under this motivation in the United States, since it is obviously not doing so under the steam of its own “research”

  2. Glenn Branch says:

    There’s a useful if by now somewhat dated (2002) book entitled The Architect and the Scaffold: Evolution and Education in South Africa, edited by Wilmot James and Lynne Wilson, which is freely available on-line from HSRC Press here.

  3. Harold Asmis says:

    I agree with Jason! The more we Canadians can promote non-scientific thinking in other countries, the more we can sell our half-assed nuclear plants!

  4. Simon Packer says:

    Hi Chris, you were supposed to contact me!
    Anyway, as an evangelical/charismatic christian I can state that there are far more of us percentagewise here than in the UK. Also they think about philosophical issues more than do most people in the UK. I am not personally concerned about where the boundaries are drawn around individual learning disciplines so long as they are not drawn in a way which restricts rational enquiry.
    I man at our church helps write some parts of the science curriculum here.
    Have you looked at Francis Collins, btw?