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Monday, 3 July, 2000, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Teaching the evolution teachers
fossil
Scientists say evolution is often not taught properly
Scientists in the United States and Canada have set up a new scheme to improve how the theory of evolution is taught.

The Evolution Education Research Centre, based at Harvard University, and Montreal's McGill University, aims to "educate the educators" to make sure they can teach the theory properly.

It has been set up following research which suggests that only just under half of Americans accept the theory of evolution, with 47% believing instead in "creationism" - the Biblical story of creation.

About half of Canadians are also reported to doubt the theory of evolution.

Scientists say this is because people are not being effectively taught the science which supports the theory, and hope the research centre will help to put this right.


Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin: Nearly half the US population shun his evolution theory

Brian Alters, a science education professor at McGill University, said: "If students understand well evolution, but for religious reasons say 'I still cannot accept that because of my religious beliefs', then we in the educational community say we respect that.

"But that is not the case, we usually find."

In a study of 1,200 college freshmen, Professor Alters found that 45% of those who doubted the theory of evolution had specific misunderstandings about some of the science that has been used to support it - such as carbon dating techniques which determine the age of fossils.

"We need to find out why people don't understand evolution, then we need to craft lessons, activities, curricula, to specifically address that," he said.

Battle

The centre plans to spread its research through teachers' conventions and seminars, as well as a website.

It specifically wants to target university-level science education professors, who will train the next generation of high school teachers.

The battle of evolution versus creationism is a long-running one in United States schools.

Some campaigners want to keep religion out of state education, while others, who do not believe the theory of evolution, want lessons in creationism instead.

In 1987, the US Supreme Court barred states from requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools where evolution is taught.

'Healthy' discussion

But a number of school boards have recently rekindled the debate.

Last year, campaigners succeeded in removing references to evolution in school tests in Kentucky.

And the Kansas Board of Education voted to remove most references to evolution from the state's curriculum.

Linda Holloway, who was chairman of the Kansas board at the time, said she welcomed the research centre scheme.

"I think that's great. I think this whole discussion is great," she said.

"Evolutionists are putting out their information and people who have different viewpoints are putting out theirs. I think that's healthy."

A telephone survey conducted in the United States last year suggested that 68% of Americans were in favour of both creationism and evolution being taught in schools.

More than half - 55% - were against replacing evolution with creationism, an option supported by 40%.

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See also:

17 Dec 99 | Education
Creation story still banned in class
07 Oct 99 | Education
Evolution removed from school tests
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