Minister retreats over extinction of Darwin

7th May 2004 at 01:00
ITALY

Italian pupils will still be able to study evolution following a U-turn by the Government on plans to drop the topic from the compulsory curriculum.

Bowing to pressure from protesters, who accused the government of giving in to Catholic fundamentalism, education minister Letizia Moratti has appointed a commission of scientists to see how Darwin can be retained in middle schools for 11 to 14-year-olds, and even brought into primary schools.

There was no trace of Darwinism in plans for the new middle-school programmes, which are due to be introduced next year as part of an ongoing reform of the whole system.

Instead, new curriculum topics include "principal types of rock" and "human reproduction with special regard to the weaning of offspring".

Only from the age of 15 - the school-leaving age - would pupils be able to study evolution. Until then, they would have to be content with creation myths, which Ms Moratti insists "pave the way towards the child's understanding of scientific data".

When middle schools were was introduced in the 1970s, much of the science curriculum was devoted to the structure, function and evolution of living beings.

The planned textbook rewrite provoked an appeal from leading scientists, including Nobel prize-winners Rita Levi Montalcini and Renato Dulbecco.

Oncologist and former health minister Umberto Veronesi said: "The Darwinian spirit is an attempt to understand the world through the force of intellect, and not an anti-religious stance. It is vital that it should be acquired as early as possible."

The appeal is just the latest in a series of protests from a wide section of society against the proposed reforms.

Last month the Italian industrialists' association expressed concern that the incorporation of technical institutes into general high schools would spell the end of school-based vocational training.

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