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Concern over the Hong Kong Secondary School Biology Curriculum

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To: Legislative Council - Panel on Education ("The Panel")

Concern over the Hong Kong Secondary School Biology Curriculum
We are the "Concern Group for Hong Kong Science Education", a group of citizens in Hong Kong who are concerned about the upcoming Biology/Combined Science curriculum for
Hong Kong secondary schools to become effective in September 2009.
We have learn from the news (SCMP, 7/2/09, EDU1) that the new curriculum used for the reformed educational system for senior secondary schools contains statements that have a
large loophole to allow teaching of non-scientific alternatives apart from the theory of evolution in middle school biology classes. One related passage is as follows:
"In addition to Darwin's theory, students are encouraged to explore other explanations for evolution and the origins of life, to help illustrate the dynamic nature of scientific knowledge." (p.23, New Senior Secondary Curriculum, Biology S4-6)
In the same article, Dean of HKU Faculty of Science Professor Sun Kwok pointed out that scientific knowledge is based on observable evidence, and not all explanations should be discussed during science classes, guidelines of Education Bureau have misinterpreted the definition of science. We also know from the same report that dozens of schools already made it clear that they will teach viewpoints such as Intelligent Design or other non-scientific notions in biology classes.
We fear this loophole will result in the erosion of our quality education, whereby the quality knowledge of the evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with
ideas or notions not testable by science, and thus contradicts the objectives of science education.
We therefore write to urge the Panel to have the Education Bureau to address this issue and correct the problem in the science curriculum, to avoid Hong Kong to become a world-class
laughing stock.
From the news, the Education Bureau turned their back on it and ignored the advice of scientists, without realizing the impact of their decision to our education and students (SCMP, 21/2/09, EDU3). According to the spokeswoman:
“The committee that drafted the guide had considered the views of stakeholders such as academics” and that "the biology curriculum will be under constant review and evaluation in the light of classroom experiences, students' performance and the changing needs of students and society."
However, science education is not about views of stakeholders in business deals – it is about what fits the definition of science and what is good science education, and it is also not
satisfying "needs" of the specific beliefs from one part of the society, but to provide quality education up to the international standards to our next generation.
In fact, the majority of the international scientists have clear consensus that the theory of evolution is currently the only robust and established scientific theory regarding biodiversity
on Earth, and that pseudo-sciences should not be taught in science classes.
Organizations making similar statements include the Interacademy Panel on international issues (IAP), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Nobel Prize Laureates from The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.
Evolutionary theory has stood numerous tests since its publication 150 years ago, supported by overwhelming evidence and is confirmed by other areas of sciences like biochemistry,
genetics, anatomy, physics, geology etc.
The other "explanations", such as Creationism or Intelligent Design are inconsistent with the definition of science, and teaching of those ideas undermines our quality education.
The new syllabus has failed to emphasize the current scientific status of the evolution theory and allow unscientific alternatives to be taught, thus cannot keep up with the current
international scientific understanding.
On February 29, 2009, the leading international academic journal on science Nature also showed their concern about the case, and described that the position of HKU Faculty of Science is against pseudo-scientific explanations such as Intelligent Design to be spread in schools. Being published in Nature, the news might have bad impact on the image of Hong Kong science education internationally.
We sincerely requests the Panel to urge the Education Bureau to take steps to prevent, instead of to promote, teaching of pseudo-sciences in science classes in order to preserve our quality
education system and provide best of knowledge to our young students. A full review of the entire science curriculum for the secondary schools is to be done.
We would also like the Panel to put forward the questions to the Education Bureau on our behalf.

The following questions use the definition of science, scientific theories and scientific methods as follows:
Science, scientific methods and scientific theories ("Science") are defined as follows, and is well understood and accepted by scientific communities worldwide:
(1) Science is verifiable knowledge built upon theories that are strongly supported by factual evidence and derived by objective scientific methods,
(2) Scientific methods embody the processes and procedures of finding explanations for natural phenomena which include observation, collecting evidence, logical deductions/inferences, making and testing predictions from hypotheses, falsification, and peer-review. Repeated testing ensures that scientific explanations are consistent with current theories, and such theories are modified (or discarded) in the light of new evidence. As a result, mistakes are minimized, or corrected, by an impartial and fair process.
(3) Scientific methods circumscribe the realm of what can be taught in the science
(4) Curriculum (4) Scientific theories and data are to be studied with a skeptical, open mind, and critically considered in the light of empirically verified evidence.

Questions:
1. Has and will the Bureau and the committee (responsible for the curriculum) consider(ed) the definition of science/scientific theory/scientific methods in drafting the curriculum for
science?
2. Are there any criteria as to what type of explanation(s) apart from evolution teachers can cover according to the new biology curriculum?
3. Are teachers allow to offer alternative explanations that do not fit the definition of science listed above?
4. Many schools made it clear that they will cover Intelligent Design or Creationism, do these fit the definition of science listed above as per current understanding of science community at
large (e.g. academia in HK, in leading countries of scientific research like China, USA etc.) ?
5. Has the Education Bureau consulted the Chinese Academy of Science (their persons or materials) on the position of teaching evolution?
6. Will teaching of non-scientific explanations undermine quality of science education in Hong Kong?

Yours Sincerely,
Virginia Yue 虞瑋倩
Spokesperson and convener for "Concern Group for Hong Kong Science Education"

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