Renowned scientists raise alarm over Welsh school curriculum

Renowned scientists raise alarm over Welsh school curriculum September 5, 2019

Warning of a potential “creep” of creationist pseudo-science into school teaching in Wales, United Kingdom, 46 prominent individuals and organizations have signed a letter urging the government to “explicitly ban the teaching of creation as science,” according to the BBC.

The signers are worried about possible unintended consequences of a “radical” new draft curriculum for Welsh schools, due to commence in 2022, which was crafted to “give teachers flexibility” in deciding how to teach students in six “broad areas of learning and experience.”

Wales’ education minister, Kirsty Williams, described the proposed curriculum as a “major milestone,” the most far-reaching reform of Welsh primary-school education in decades. The minister added it would initiate a “big culture change” and be “very different to what most of us have experienced.”

The revised curriculum “aims to rethink what and how young people are taught,” the BBC reported. Before the final version is ratified next year, the government will solicit views of universities, employers, teachers and parents.

Initiated by the group Humanists UK, the warning letter calls for students in all primary schools — although religious schools are a key focus — to be taught the foundational science of evolution, not theological imaginings.

Signers of the letter include such heavy hitters as environmentalist and documentarian Sir David Attenborough, influential atheist author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and anthropologist and science broadcaster Alice Roberts.

 “The new science and technology area of learning and experience doesn’t explicitly prohibit presenting creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based and evolution is only mentioned once (and only at secondary level at that),” the letter states. “What’s more, without an explicit ban on teaching creationism, intelligent design and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum, when it is vital children in Wales are not exposed to pseudoscientific doctrines masquerading as science.”

Wales coordinator of Humanists UK, while acknowledging she was not currently aware of any “blatant teaching of creationism” in the country’s schools, said the new draft curriculum’s approach “could make it much easier for a school, such as a religious school, to openly teach creationism as science.”

The Welsh government has pushed back against the letter campaign, stressing that it expects all students will be taught scientific evolution in the country’s primary schools.

“It’s wholly incorrect to claim that evolution will only be introduced [beyond primary grades],” a government spokesman said. “… We believe that providing children with an understanding of evolution at an early age will help lay foundations for a better understanding of wider scientific concepts later on.”

Although many teachers are reportedly excited about the prospect of greater freedom and flexibility in how they teach children, others worry that the new curricula lacks clarity in how far they should go.

Dylan Wiliam, a professor emeritus of educational assessment at University College London and an international education consultant, has mixed feelings about the proposed curriculum.

“There’s a reasonable chance that this could be successful if the right things are done. And there’s a really good chance that the whole thing is a disaster,” he told BBC Radio Wales’ Eye on Wales program.

Whatever the final language of Wales’ revised curriculum, it should unambiguously require that students be taught evolution as science, not as a theological adjunct that configures with religious dogma, not material evidence.

We in the United States know only too well that if evangelical Christians get one inch into schools, they’ll take a mile regarding the teaching of scientific evolution. Having endured too many court cases involving faith-majority school boards and state legislatures trying to quietly insinuate creationism into science curricula, Americans who value church-state separation and secular education must always vigilant.

What the British letter campaign is worried about is all too real.

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