The Representation of the Theory of Evolution in Greek Primary and Secondary Education

University of Athens, Greece

Supervising committee: K. Halkia, C. Skordoulis, V. Zogza

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This dissertation investigated comprehensively the “representation” i.e. the “presentation” and “presence” of the theory of biological evolution in primary and secondary education in Greece, from the beginning of the twentieth century.

To compose this “representation”, the presentation of the theory of evolution was investigated in:

a) curricula, biology textbooks and biology subjects taught in secondary and primary education respectively since the introduction of the relevant subjects;

b) primary and secondary education teachers’ views and conceptions of the theory of evolution;

c) pupils’ conceptions (tenth grade pupils who had completed their obligatory education, which, in our country, is nine years).

The methodology used included analysis of all curricula with regard to their aim, syllabi and hours allocated to the teaching of biology and other relevant subjects, identification and analysis of all the texts with direct or indirect relevance to the evolutionary theory in all curricula and textbooks of the secondary and the primary education. The research instruments used for recording the conceptions and views of educators and pupils were original questionnaires constructed from open and closed questions, as well as interviews with secondary education instructors who teach biology.

The basic results of the research were the following:

The theory of evolution found its place in the curricula and secondary education biology textbooks early on (beginning of the 1930s), although at the end of the syllabus.

The number of hours allocated to the instruction of biology was very limited compared to other subjects. The curricula and the textbooks were renewed tardily – due to specific historical circumstances. As a result of this tardiness textbooks were not enhanced by the developments in the theories of biological evolution, until the middle of the 1970s. The instruction of human evolution in particular, began during the 1980s and was addressed only to a percentage of pupils.

With further new changes in the curricula at the end of the 1990s, the theory of evolution and the evolution of man found a more stable position in the curricula usually at the end of the syllabus in the biology textbooks. However biology lessons were still scheduled for less time than those dedicated to other subjects. In practice, there was either not enough time for the evolutionary theory to be taught in junior high school, or it was omitted from the subject matter of the courses in senior high school*.

As the research in the primary education curricula and textbooks showed, the theory of evolution was not introduced and concepts seen as a prerequisite to the teaching of evolution were given inadequate attention.

As the research in the views and conceptions of the teachers showed, the importance of teaching the evolutionary theory was recognized by the great majority of the teachers at both the primary and the secondary level of education. Nevertheless the majority of primary education teachers showed serious deficiencies in scientific knowledge demanded for teaching issues such as the subject of “adaptation of organisms”, a subject taught in many grades. As a result of said deficiency, pupils carry misconceptions to the next level of education which become an obstacle in secondary school pupils’ understanding of natural selection later on, despite the fact that their acceptance of evolution was recorded when their conceptions of the theory of evolution were examined.

Secondary education teachers proved to be favourably disposed towards the instruction of the theory of evolution, a disposition expressed more vividly by those whose cognitive familiarity with the theory was greater. Also revealed was their need for specific and practical support in various matters, i.e. in matters relative to their scientific training in the theory, epistemological issues, as well as in pedagogical issues relating to the effectiveness of their teaching.

The above-mentioned findings indicated the need for a more comprehensive teaching of the unifying theory of biology in secondary education and of the prerequisite concepts in primary and middle education. Towards that end, suggestions were made on how to implement improvements on the teaching of the subject and on further research.

*It is worth noting that since 2009 the Darwinian Theory has been added to the biology syllabus of the twelfth grade.

Thesis full reference

Prinou Lucia (2008) The Representation of the Theory of Evolution in Greek Primary and Secondary Education. Unpublished PhD thesis. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Department of Education, Athens, Greece.

Publications in journals

Prinou L., Halkia K. & Skordoulis C. (2011) The Inability of Primary School to Introduce Children to the Theory of Biological Evolution, Evolution: Education & Outreach, 4: 275-285. DOI 10.1007/s12052-011-0323-8.

Prinou L., Halkia K. & Skordoulis C. (2009) La Réception de la Théorie de l’Evolution dans l’Enseignement Grec. Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Sciences, 59 : 162, 255-272.

Prinou L, Halkia K. & Skordoulis C. (2008) What conceptions do Greek school students form about biological evolution? Evolution: Education & Outreach, 1: 312–317. Doi:10.1007/s12052-008-0051-x.


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