Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is considered one of the cornerstones of science, but the education system in Israel has avoided dealing with the subject until now due to the religious controversy it tends to raise.
But all of this is about to change as the Education Ministry decided that the evolution theory will be taught in the coming academic year as part of the science curriculum in the eighth and ninth grades.
However, the theory will be presented to students without the "controversial" sub-topic that humans originated from the ape. Students will instead be focusing on the process of heredity, as well as as humans' health.
Evolution enters the curriculum (Photo: Shutterstock)
In its current edition, the theory of evolution's teaching curriculum is only taught in high schools' biology classes, which is an optional topic for pupils choosing to take the biology matriculation exams. According to the Education Ministry, out of 120,000 students who take the matriculation exams every year, only 15,000 take the biology exam, so the majority of students are not taught the theory of evolution.
After months of deliberations, the science committee, which has been deliberating on the subject, has decided that Darwin's theory will be included in the curriculum as part of the eighth and ninth grades' study chapter "Ecosystems and Interactions between Organisms and their Environment".
This decision means that from now on 220,000 students in junior high schools, including state-religious schools, will be taught evolution, even if only partially. As part of the new curriculum, students will be familiar with key events in the history of biological evolution and focus on the turning points that led to the biological knowledge acceptable today. Also, the students will learn about changes in population size in relation to environmental factors.
"The teacher in class will explain the survival chances of individuals in their environment when those adapted better to their environment will pass on these traits to their descendants, allowing them better chances to survive," a source said to Ynet.
The source also said that according to the program, these survival chances serve as the basis for the theory of evolution that offers possible explanations to species we find today on earth, in comparison to the species that inhabited it in the past." In addition, the students will learn that according to acceptable scientific theories the variety of species on earth is the result of evolutionary processes.
Dr. Ariel Chipman, a lecturer in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at Hebrew University in Jerusalem thinks that only by omitting the human evolution topic, the professional committee was able to introduce natural selection to the curriculum.
"There isn't too much difference between the evolution of humans to that of animals, but if taking out humans from the theory is what it takes to incorporate Darwin's theory - one of the most important scientific theories of our time - to the education system, than it is fine by me," said Chipman.
"I honestly don't think that the evolution of humans is the most important issue in Darwin's theory; once we understood the evolutionary principles, we have no other choice but to conclude that humans have undergone a process of evolution as well," Chipman added.
Committee Chairwoman Prof. Nava Ben-Zvi told Ynet that, "the subject of evolution is an integral part of the acceptable scientific perception to explain processes and phenomena in the world of living organisms," said Ben-Zvi.
"It is clear we cannot educate generations of students without teaching how animal systems operate. Evolution is one of the pillars of science and if we want to see groundbreaking scientists in the future we need to give them the theoretical basics to nature processes," added Ben-Zvi.
The debate surrounding the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution is not confined solely to the Israeli education system or Judaism. In the US for example, the Judicial system has ruled that ignoring Darwin's theory in schools is a violation of the US constitution.
However, according to a study conducted by Pennsylvania State University, most biology teachers in the US believe in creationism - a belief that the universe and living organisms originate from divine creation.