Israeli schools largely avoid teaching evolution — report

Israeli schools largely avoid teaching evolution — report

Charles Darwin’s theory of common descent of life is marginalized and instead students are taught about species’ adaptation and genetic modification

Chimpanzee family. (iStock by Getty Images/ apple2499)
Chimpanzee family. (iStock by Getty Images/ apple2499)

Most students in Israeli schools do not learn about evolution, and the Education Ministry is quietly encouraging teachers to focus on other topics in biology, according to a Wednesday report.

Several teachers who spoke to Channel 10 said the Education Ministry prefers they teach as little about evolution as possible. The educators said they received no training on the topic and received hints from the ministry that it was better to focus on other subjects.

Biology classes in kindergarten and elementary school do not mention Charles Darwin’s theory that all life evolved from common ancestors, and in middle school it is only alluded to as part of general discussions, the TV report said.

Four years ago, the high school curriculum was revised, the report said. Previously there had been one unit on evolution in the matriculation exams. In the new curriculum, the religiously sensitive theory of common descent has been omitted, and replaced with classes on species survival and genetic modifications and adaptations based on environmental factors.

The news report cited three biology teachers who said they simply do not teach evolution in their classrooms.

The evolution of life over hundreds of millions of years is crucial to a modern understanding of science and underpins all of modern biology. However, many religious fundamentalists believe evolution contradicts a literal reading of the Bible, which says that God created all life fully formed.

“Not teaching this is actually removing a very, very fundamental part of science and making it inaccessible to Israeli children,” said Dr. Liat Ben David, the general director of the Davidson Institute for Science Education.

The Education Ministry defended its curriculum.

“Learning the principles of adaptation to the environment is compulsory in middle school,” it told Channel 10. “The theory of evolution itself is taught as an optional class in high schools.”

A 2016 Pew Report found that just over half of Israeli Jews believe in evolution (53%), but huge disparities were found between religious groups on the subject. Just 3% of ultra-Orthodox Jews, 11% of Modern Orthodox, and 35% of traditional Jews believe in evolution. Among the secular, 83% believe humans and other living things have evolved over time, and those with a university education subscribed to the belief more readily – 72%– than those that didn’t – 50%. Some 80% of Russian-speaking Jews believe in evolution.

A majority of Ashkenazi Jews believe in evolution (66%), while only 39% of Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews do. But more Israeli Jews than Arabs believe in evolution (37% of Israeli Arabs).

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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