One of the main reasons I first sat down and started writing “Little Changes” was because I felt the national curriculum did not provide a good foundation at an early enough age, in regards to teaching evolution. It tended to focus on adaptation as a rather static process, “fish have fins to swim, birds have wings to fly, hence fish live in the sea and birds fly in the sky”. I’m not saying this is how all teachers chose to teach the topic – I’m sure there were fantastic efforts to try and introduce evolution with more life and excitement. But the fact is it was not expected or even encouraged, it is only those teachers that had a personal interest or that were prepared to go above and beyond their call of duty that would have provided children with this knowledge. And for you courageous few, I thank you.
However, in June 2012 a draft of the updated national curriculum was released, and I was thrilled to see evolution on the agenda. Previously, pupils at key stage 2 (between 7 and 11 years) were expected to know “about the different plants and animals found in different habitats” and “how animals and plants in two different habitats are suited to their environment”. The subject was then abandoned until year 10 (14-15 years), which was the first stage at which evolution was explicitly discussed. The new standards state that in year 4 (8-9 years old) pupils are expected to understand the basics of inheritance – without necessarily understanding genes and chromosomes – and the key concepts of adaptation through learning the evolutionary history of our hominid ancestors over millions of years. “Hoorah!” Even better, this knowledge is built on in years 5 and 6 when with the introduction of variation, and evidence supporting evolution from the fossil records.
I was particularly impressed with the use of human evolution as an example of gradual change over time, because I would imagine for some religious parents this is one of the areas of evolution that they are very reluctant to accept. However, evidence doesn’t lie – and I think the national curriculum has taken a very positive step forward in debunking the false controversy which still surrounds evolution today. Education should not be censored for fear of offending the uninformed few. Children should be offered all the facts – and the choice as to whether or not to accept them should be their decision, not ours.
Well done Britain, I’m proud of you.
You can see the draft of the national curriculum for key stages 1 and 2 here: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/d/draft%20national%20curriculum%20for%20science%20key%20stages%201%202.pdf
And I’m sure this change was in no small part due to some hard campaigning from the British Humanist Association (BHA), check out their campaign here: http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/