The Israeli education system has joined the majority of the Western world in introducing the theory of evolution to middle-school pupils beginning in the next academic year, it was announced on Sunday.
The professional committee in the Education Ministry made the decision to introduce the theory of evolution to seventh grade through ninth grade pupils across the education system – in secular stateschools, state-religious schools and Arab schools.
“For years, since the 1980s, evolution was only touched upon in some middle schools, depending on if the teacher felt comfortable tackling such a heavy subject,” committee chairwoman Prof. Nava Ben-Zvi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
To date, the Education Ministry has not officially incorporated Darwin’s theory in its middle-school sciences curriculum; only high school students pursuing a matriculation certificate in biology, a small fraction of the student population, were exposed to the subject.
The decision would introduce the theory of evolution to pupils as part of the general science and technology curriculum and not as an “anchor subject,” but rather through the study of ecology. “Studying the theory is the basis for a better understanding of ecology, the study of different species and the interactions between them,” Ben-Zvi explained, adding that the committee discussed how to best incorporate the subject area, methodology and teacher training into the curriculum.
According to the chairwoman, the decision was not a sudden one, as numerous committees “along the way” had all made the recommendation to include the study of the theory in the curriculum. “For over three years we have discussed the need to reevaluate the general science curriculum for middle schools and this [the study of evolution] is incorporated into the assessment,” she said.
Regarding any opposition by ultra-Orthodox or religious factions, Ben-Zvi said she did not see “any need for resistance” from these sectors. “We are not fighting the links,” she said “but science is science and the time has come to incorporate the study into the curriculum,” she said.
Reactions on Sunday to the inclusion of the theory from the ultra-Orthodox sector were mixed.
The president of the Hemdat Hadarom College, an institute of higher education in the national-religious sector, said on Sunday that teaching evolution in middle schools was a mistake.
“It’s a mistake to teach evolution in the current format in grades eight and nine because of the complexity of the subject and the lack of consensus between scientists in Israel and around the world on the validity of many different aspects of evolution,” national- religious news website Srugim reported him as saying.
However, the moderate Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah national-religious organization welcomed the introduction of the topic to the syllabus.
“Our responsibility for our children’s education includes exposing them to different perspectives, whether they are [generally] accepted or not, and their ability to deal with these perspectives,” the group said.
“General studies are a fertile ground for enriching our spiritual world. Sometimes you can contend with them and reject their conclusions, and sometimes it is possible to adopt certain points and join them to the holy Torah as some of the great rabbinic leaders of the Jewish people have done in the past,” the group added, in reference to the founder of religious Zionism, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, who said that the theory was commensurate with the mystical teachings of Judaism.