Israel will begin teaching evolution as part of its middle-school science curriculum beginning in the next academic year, the education ministry announced on Sunday, according to the Israeli news site Haaretz.
The change makes it mandatory to teach what was an optional subject, although it is unclear if the rule will apply to both religious state schools and secular schools, or just the latter.
Evolution is currently taught in some high schools, but because it is a voluntary portion of the biology curriculum, many students finish school without ever being exposed to evolution, according to Haaretz.
With the change in policy, all eighth and ninth grade students will begin learning about evolution.
The change in curriculum comes from the Education Ministry’s professional advisory committee on science, which has been working on revising the middle school curriculum for the past few years.
The committee says the goal of educating students about evolution is to teach students that environmental and genetic changes “led to the enormous diversity of species that exists in the biosphere,” and that “changes in the size and characteristics of a population are due to the influence of environmental factors and hereditary traits.”
Committee chairwoman Prof. Nava Ben-Zvi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, “For years, since the 1980s, evolution was only touched upon in some middle schools, depending on if the teacher felt comfortable tackling such a heavy subject.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, evolution will not be taught as an “anchor subject,” but rather as a part of the study of ecology.
“Studying the theory is the basis for a better understanding of ecology, the study of different species and the interactions between them,” Ben-Zvi told the Jerusalem Post.
Ministry officials noted a decision had not been reached on whether state religious schools would teach evolution, pointing to such schools’ previously successful efforts of finding ways to avoid teaching subjects that were potentially controversial in the religious community.
Last year the religious community succeeded in getting the ministry to remove a chapter on human reproduction from textbooks used in religious state schools. The changes included “eliminating any reference to the female body throughout the book, softening any text or image liable to offend religious sensibilities and using examples more suitable to a religious lifestyle,” according to Haaretz.