School-Level Teaching of Evolutionary Biology Begins without Proper Resources

Article excerpt

Here is a South African story for the New Year. Three science education specialists from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) walked into my office about 18 months ago to say that they needed help. Biology teachers were to offer evolutionary biology to learners in 2007 and they did not know how they were going to do it. Would we help, they asked?

I rushed off some letters to some people I thought were in charge. I had one curious reply, from a senior official who assured me that all was in hand, as a Cape-based organisation was in fact taking care of the in-service training of teachers. He had got it badly wrong.

The organisation was providing training in the history of social Darwinism and eugenics, which is about the political abuse and social perversion of biology, whereas evolutionary biology is a subject to be taught by university-based expert scientists.

In the meanwhile we published two books, Teaching Evolution: A Teachers' Guide by Edith Dempster and The Iconography of Evolution by Richard Mason, Sandra Prosalendis and Tony Morphet, 2006, HSRC & AGEI.

Education Minister Naledi Pandor launched them at the University of the Western Cape. Vice-Chancellor Brian O' Connell was a superb host.

The funders of the books were present, by no less the personas than the Ambassador and First Secretary. Lots of teachers were there. Our three science education specialists were very impressed.

The Genome Institute has probably the best network of biologists on the African continent. We built the network in 2001 around major annual conferences held in Stellenbosch, Cairo, Nairobi and Cape Town. Some of the world's best genome science institutions like the California Institute of Technology and Harvard and MIT's Broad Institute, and Africa's centres of excellence based in Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, and some European institutions too, are our partners.

Nobel Laureates and some remarkable scientists from all over the world and friends in the world of science education are more than willing to help us upgrade the quality of school biology.

It seemed, therefore, as some would say, a no-brainer.

I whipped off another letter to national education officials. We had a promising meeting. In-service training of teachers in biology was important and a priority, the official said. …