Science Standards Stir Anger—in Britain

By Sean Cavanagh — July 28, 2009 1 min read
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The United States isn’t the only place to host contentious debates over what belongs in science standards.

A proposed rewrite of Britain’s academic guidelines for primary school teaching in that subject, the first such revision in England in more than 20 years, has drawn objections from some of the country’s leading scientists, including renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins and other scientists, in a letter to Britain’s children’s secretary, voice concerns that the draft does not address the theory of evolution, the scientific method, or give students an overall sense of why science is important in society, the Guardian reports. The standards are being revised in an effort to give British primary schools more freedom to choose curriculum, by creating a “slimmed down” version of the document, according to the article. (Sort of a British spin on the “fewer, clearer, and higher” standards talk being kicked around over here.)

The desire to improve not only students’ grasp of scientific facts, but also their overall “scientific literacy,” is a theme that has gained strength in recent years in this country. It sounds like the scientific voices in England share this concern, and an interest in seeing crucial concepts, like evolution, taught well in early grades.

Andrew Copson, another British scientist quoted in the story who objects to the new standards, says: “The wealth of colorful and engaging resources that explain evolution and natural selection to under 11-year-olds demonstrates how easily children of this age can be introduced to these important scientific concepts...the curriculum currently being drafted will apply for years to come so it is vital that this long-standing omission of evolution is corrected now.”

The goal of British officials is to have new standards completed by this fall.

(Photo of Richard Dawkins by Akira Suemori/AP)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.