113. Bioethics Education in High Schools:
An Investigation in Tamil Nadu with Comparisons to Australia, Japan and New Zealand
Cynthia Pandian & Darryl
Department of Education, University of Madras, Chennai 600 005, INDIA
* Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Science City, Ibaraki 305, JAPAN
Bioethics education has emerged as a new dimension in the education of students, preparing them to face the ethical issues arising from human involvement with life and the ethical dilemmas that technology often raises. For the last two decades science educators are striving towards teaching science through the Science, Technology and Society (STS) approach i.e., teaching scientific facts in the social, ethical and environmental context. Bioethics education aims at helping students learn to balance facts and values of application of scientific discoveries and developments in making decisions about the use of science and technology.
An International Bioethics Education Survey (Macer et al. 1996) was conducted for school teachers in Australia, New Zealand and Japan in mid 1993 to investigate the teaching of bioethics in schools with reference to the teachers' images about bioethics; what knowledge the teachers have about issues related to bioethics; the current teaching of social ethical and environmental issues associated with Science & Technology; the students' and teachers' ethical concern about animals experiments; the teachers' perceived need for bioethics education; the required information and resources for bioethics education. As reported by Macer et al. (1996) there is 90% support for including discussion of social issues associated with science and technology in the schools of these three countries and the teachers are supportive of bioethics teaching in schools.
After reading this book, one of us (Pandian) was interested in teaching of bioethics in higher secondary classes (plus one and two) in Tamil Nadu using the same International Bioethics Education Survey Questionnaire. This survey was conducted solely by Pandian, following the survey of Macer and colleagues. This was conducted with the hopes that after a pilot study there will be an extensive and exhaustive research work covering the whole country of India.
Unlike other countries, scientific developments in Tamil Nadu are discussed more in the science classes than in other subject classes at the higher secondary level. Further there is a uniform science curriculum in the whole state. Hence, it was felt that the science teachers may be more knowledgeable to respond to the International Bioethics Education Survey Questionnaire. A hundred biology teachers were involved in the study whose details are given in Table 1.
This paper is a summary of the results in Tamil Nadu in support of bioethics education in general, teaching of social, ethical and environmental issues associated with Science and Technology in particular and the inclusion of such issues in the school rooms and curriculum are compared with those biology teachers in New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
Table 1: School And Teacher Characteristics (%)
Number of Biology Teacher Respondents:
New Zealand (N=206); Australia (N=251); Japan (N=560); Tamil Nadu (N=100).
School Size: (Student number) NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
- 200 - 6.3 3.6 4.9 --
- 600 - 26.2 42.9 20.1 --
- 1500 - 61.2 51.2 67.3 5
- 1500 - 6.3 2.4 7.7 38
Type of Schools: 20 Private schools; 18 Government schools; 5 Government Aided
Teachers Characteristics: (%)
24% Teaching botany; 44% Teaching zoology; 32% Teaching both
64% of female; 80% of married; 92% of teachers having less than two children
Education - 66% Graduates
and 34% Postgraduate
2. Images of Bioethics of Teachers
The term `bioethics' may
be unfamiliar to most teachers of Tamil Nadu, although they recognise
the ethical issues associated with science and technology. The
images of bioethics as held by teachers of New Zealand, Australia
and Japan and Tamil Nadu are presented in Table 2.
Table 2: Images of Bioethics
|Respect for life||3.4||0.8||27.5||42|
|A very important subject||1.0||0||1.6||5|
|How we should use life||28.8||26.8||6.8||0|
|Science/Biology raises issues||32.2||28.8||2.1||6|
|People face issues||0.5||0||1.3||0|
|Debate is useful||1.0||0.4||2.5||0|
|Decide before use||9.8||14.0||4.1||0|
|How to apply Biotechnology||14.1||19.2||5.3||6|
|Don't trust Science||0||0||0.2||0|
The perception of bioethics of teachers of Tamil Nadu is quite limited compared to others and it is confined to the concept of respect for life and the use of science and Technology for Medicine. Respect for life is sighted as the major concern (42%) and therefore they acclaim it to be an important subject, which is similar to Japan, and considered to be a sign of less practical thought of the issues (Asada et al. 1996). Their concern for bioethics as environmental issues and protection of nature or as an animal right to live is absent. On the other hand they consider the right to use living organism in the service of human being. We could conclude the teachers of Tamil Nadu have limited conception about bioethics and are just beginning to recognise this issue.
3. Knowledge and Attitudes of Science and Technology
Knowledge of teachers in
Tamil Nadu about bioethics issues are tested using 15 selected
topics related to bioethics listed in Table 3. Teachers in Tamil
Nadu have responsible knowledge about these topics. Around 4%
have not heard about any of the topics, 20% and 16% about Fibre
optics and bioethics respectively. Discussion of these topics
by teachers in Tamil Nadu classes are compared with those of other
countries in Table 4.
Table 3: Knowledge of
|Items (%)||Not heard of it||Heard of it||Could explain to||Discussed it in class|
|In Vitro Fertility||8||44||20||20||28|
|Biological Pest Control||4||20||32||4||52|
|Human Gene Therapy||8||24||16||20||44|
|Genetic Engineering - Plant||4||20||36||12||52|
|GE - Microorganisms||4||20||24||12||48|
|GE - Animals||0||24||32||12||60|
Table 4: Comparative Teaching
of Selected Topics in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Tamil
Nadu High Schools
|In vitro Fertility||84||91||76||28|
|Biological Pest Control||96||86||65||52|
|Human Gene Therapy||66||71||51||44|
|Genetic Engineering Plant||88||85||42||52|
|GE - Animals||81||85||59||60|
Teaching of Agricultural Pesticides, Biological pest control, Eugenics, Biotechnology, Nuclear Power, AIDS and Human Gene therapy show a high percentage as they are included in the Higher Secondary Biology Curriculum. In the case of AIDS there is 84% as in other countries because of the extensive awareness spreading through different mass media. The teachers are able to transmit the same message to the students.
Tamil Nadu teachers do not
teach much about In vitro fertilization, prenatal diagnosis and
fibre optics as they are fairly new technology in the country,
not yet popularised. With regard to computers (16%) it is treated
as a separate subject and therefore it is in-accessible to all
teachers except the computer science teacher.
Perceptions of Benefit or Risk in Science and Technology Developments
The teachers were questioned
about their personal beliefs about the worthwhileness of scientific
discoveries and developments and whether they have any worry about
the risk involved in them. The following tables compare the responses
of Tamil Nadu Teachers with those of New Zealand, Australia and
Japan considering each Scientific Development. Also some examples
of comments made by Tamil Nadu teachers regarding their risks
and benefits are given (compare to Macer et al. (1996) for comments
of teachers in the other countries).
Table 5: In Vitro Fertilization
Benefits: In vitro fertility helps one to get progeny when incapable naturally; Can produce offsprings; To overcome sterility of animals and human beings, safe alternative for sterility
Risks: We do not know its
impact on the new born individual; It is not guaranteed that all
will survive; Contrary to Indian culture; Law of nature is bypassed.
Table 6: Biotechnology
Benefits: Useful for breeding food production; Useful to cure diseases; Can produce offspring of desired character; Improve Quality
Risk: Must be environmentally
tested before releasing newly modified organism; Natural varieties
Table 7: Agricultural
Benefit: Control pest, protect crop, get better yield; Improve Crop
Risk: Chemical pesticides
degrade soil and enter into food; Leads to land and water pollution;
Natural taste of vegetables and fruits are lost
Table 8: Nuclear Power
Benefit: For production of Electricity, further invention of new elements
Risk: Can be misused, danger
of nuclear war, devastation
Table 9: Computers
Benefit: Important role in all fields, faster than human and accurate
Risk: Mechanizes human life,
makes one lazy, cause environmental destruction, leads to unemployment;
Degrades human skill
About genetic engineering:
Benefit: Improvement of crops, can produce better quality with desired characteristics; Undesirable traits can be eliminated
Risk: Man's interference with nature is not welcome; A slow process; May cause genetic disorder; Possibility of getting unwanted characters deviating the law of independent assortment.
Table 10: Genetic Engineering
From the above tables, it
is very clear that teachers of all the countries have a favourable
attitude towards scientific discoveries and developments. They
reveal similar concerns for the benefits and risks involved in
these scientific developments. It is disappointing to note that
more than 50% of Tamil Nadu teachers have expressed `no worries'
for what so ever is happening in these fields. Could it be due
to their lack of knowledge regarding these issues?
Perceptions of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Gene Therapy
The concern of teachers
in using food and medicines produced through GMOs such as bacteria,
plants and animals is more for medicine and dairy products but
less for meat and vegetables. The teachers also strongly or some
what approve of Scientists changing the genetic make up of human
cells for the purposes listed in Table 12.
Table 11: Concern for
Genetically Modified Organism by Teachers in Tamil Nadu
|Products||No||A Few||Some||A lot|
Furthermore a higher percentage
of teachers approve of the environmental use of genetically engineered
organism to produce the following listed in Table 13 provided
there was no risk to humans or only very remote risks to the environment.
Table 13: Approval of
environmental release of GMOs
|Tomatoes with better taste||76||20||4|
|Healthier meat (e.g. less fat)||72||16||12|
|Larger sport fish||56||20||24|
|Bacteria to clean up oil spills||68||16||16|
|Disease resistant crops||84||8||8|
|Cows which produce more milk||80||16||4|
Table 12: Approval of
Genetic Makeup of Human Cells
|Application:||Strongly Approve||Somewhat Approve||Somewhat Disapprove||Strongly Disapprove||Don't know|
|a. Cure a usually fatal disease, such as cancer||56||24||4||4||4|
|b. Reduce the risk of developing a fatal disease later in life||48||36||0||4||4|
|c. Prevent children from inheriting a usually fatal disease||76||0||4||8||4|
|d. Prevent children from inheriting a non-fatal disease, such as diabetes||60||28||0||0||4|
|e. Improve the physical characteristics that children would inherit||28||36||12||4||12|
|f. Improve the intelligence level that children would inherit||32||36||8||4||8|
Current Teaching of Social Ethical and Environmental Issues
It was already observed
that topics related to bioethics are discussed in the classes.
While discussing the scientific developments in the class, teachers
are asked whether they touch up on the social, ethical and environmental
issues associated with those developments and also whether they
think more scope should be provided in the curriculum for discussion
of the issues associated with the application of these developments.
The responses for the two questions are summarised in Table 14.
Table 14: Current Discussion
and More Scope in Curriculum (% agree)
|Top-Social or ethical Bot-Environments||New Zealand||Australia||Japan||Tamil Nadu|
|In vitro Fertilization||77
When compared with teachers of other countries, teachers of Tamil Nadu appear to discuss more of the environmental issues than the social and ethical issues of bioethics topics. Teachers of Tamil Nadu are of the opinion that only the positive aspects of modern developments are taught and that the negative aspects must also be taught. They agree for more room in the curriculum for all issues of bioethics, specially in the environmental context.
They recommend topics like
biotechnology to be included in the curriculum, so that it will
be useful for higher studies like `Microbiology'. Those who disagree
for including `In Vitro Fertilization' and `Prenatal Diagnosis'
in the curriculum state that it is against the Indian culture
and it would corrupt the minds of young ones. They report that
their main source of teaching materials are the text books, magazines,
articles in news papers, television, reference books and day to
Ethical Concern about Animal Experiments
80% of teachers use animals for experiments in the class. 60% of teachers and 52% of students have expressed ethical concern about the animals. Some of the comments cited by teachers who have ethical concerns are:
Avoid using animals, find
vegetable substitutes, cruel to hurt them, small number may be
used, no right to kill them, feel guilty but do it as a professional
duty, cruel to kill animals, against religious principle, killing
animals is a sin perform experiments without animals. 12% of
teachers who have no ethical concern state that it is because
they don't see them live and also because they cannot perform
experiments without animals. However 76% of teachers have agreed
that animal experiments are necessary to teach biology at high
schools. Teachers of New Zealand, Australia and Japan also cite
more or less the same statements for having ethical concerns about
animal experiments. Striking differences were in the comments
given by Japanese teachers: i. `Cost Benefit Analysis' - analyse
cost and benefit but still decide to do experiments. ii. disposal
of dead bodies i.e., treatment after death. Some schools in Japan
seem to have a shrine to remember the animals sacrificed in experiments
and most medical schools have a memorial stone and hold annual
service of remembrance for experimental animals. The teachers
of these three countries are concerned about the `abuse of animals'
by students, more in New Zealand than in Australia and Japan.
This concern is not expressed by teachers of Tamil Nadu. Does
this mean that our students are not cruel to animals? This may
be an interesting point for further study.
Awareness of Animal Guidelines
There is an apparent lack
of knowledge of guidelines on the treatment of animals in high
schools as expressed by teachers not only in Tamil Nadu (80%)
but also in Japan (90%). Teachers need to be aware of animal welfare
guidelines. Efforts are needed in this direction. In New Zealand
all research and teaching using animals must be covered by an
approval from an Institutional Animal Ethics Committee before
the work commences. The teachers are also aware of the Royal Society
of New Zealand guidelines for animal use (76%) In Australia,
there is a code of practice for the care and use of animals for
experiment purposes issued by Natural Health and Medical Research
Council. In Japan, there is a 1993 Law on the Protection and
Control of Animals and Government Guidelines. Probably it was
too new for teachers of to be aware of it during this survey (Macer
et al. 1996).
Need for Bioethics Education in Schools
Before deciding on the issue
of `Bioethics Education' the teachers have expressed their agreement-disagreement
regarding the statements listed in Table 15. From Table 15 it
is obvious that teachers are more agreeable to the statements
dealing with positive aspects of Science and Technology. They
agree that public understanding and awareness of Science is generally
poor. Their agreement is high in respect of the need for teaching
science and technology in the biology curriculum with more information
on social and ethical issue associated with them. However majority
of them are against aborting a four month old fetus although the
opinion regarding congenital abnormalities are varied. Teachers
are asked as a last question on the need for bioethics education
in schools, at what level it needs to be included and what teaching
materials they would need to teach bioethics in school. Teachers
of all the four countries are supportive of bioethics education
in schools and teachers of Tamil Nadu are more favourable as evident
from Table 16.
Table 15: General Attitude
|Statements||Agree strongly||Agree||Neither||Disagree||Disagree strongly|
|a. Science makes an important contribution to the quality of life||72||20||8||0||0|
|b. Most problems can be solved by applying more and better technology||44||40||12||8||0|
|c. The natural environment has a valuable property that humans should not tamper with||68||24||4||4||0|
|d. Genetically modified plants and animals will help agriculture become less dependent on chemical pesticides||52||32||0||12||4|
|e. Students should be informed about the social issues associated with science and technology so that they can participate in contemporary debates||64||28||8||0||0|
|f. A woman can abort a 4 month old fetus||4||12||0||32||48|
|g. A woman can abort a 4 month old fetus that has congenial abnormalities||36||32||4||4||20|
|h. A married couple can use a surrogate mother and in vitro Fertilization if they cannot get pregnant themselves||36||20||20||12||8|
|i. Animals have rights that people should not violate||48||24||20||4||0|
|j. Scientists have mostly left it to others to communicate science to public||20||24||24||16||4|
|k. Public understanding and awareness of science is generally very poor||36||40||12||4||4|
|l. Scientists are obscure and unapproachable||16||32||20||20||8|
|m. Genetic engineering and its applications should be taught as a topic in the school biology syllabus||64||28||0||4||0|
|n. The school biology syllabus should include discussion of the issues involved in science and technology||68||20||0||8||0|
Table 16: Need for Bioethics
|New Zealand||Australia||Japan||Tamil Nadu|
|Not really needed||5||1||1||0|
The reasons stated at the
end of the questionnaire were more comprehensive then the categories
listed in Table 4. In the beginning their perception of bioethics
was limited to respect for life and after an awareness through
the questionnaires, they had gained much understanding of what
bioethics is. Some of the reasons stated are `Bioethics Education'
is needed not only for respecting life, but also for `solving
issues raised in Science'. Students must be trained to practice
ethics whatever may be the field of work, `necessary for solving
social and environmental problem', `needed for drawing a line
for discoveries affecting human life' for preventing human mechanization,
`for a careful approach towards animal research', necessary for
maintaining discipline in biological research and application,
to help students value nature while studying biology, helping
students understand that learning takes place at the expense of
animal butchery and therefore be serious in learning - not playful.
Table 17: Required Teaching
Materials in Four Countries
|News papers & Magazines||2||2||2||8|
|Need New Information||14||11||9||7|
Apart from the above, 2% of teachers in Tamil Nadu have preferred `on the spot' or `situation experience' and 32% have expressed `field study' to obtain first hand information. Information relating to `Bioethics' is given through the subjects Botany and Zoology at +1 and +2 levels while dealing with `Plant Breeding', `Plant Hybridization', `Genetics', and `Human Physiology'. At present, they do not have sufficient materials to teach bioethics except the text books. The text books do not mention the benefits or concerns about the scientific research and developments. The teachers discuss the social and environmental issues with the knowledge they gain through mass media.
From Table 17, it is understood
that they rely more on printed and mass media materials than `on
discussion' which most teachers of other countries prefer. Bioethics
is not theoretical, it is intensely practical and interdisciplinary.
Developing ethical maturity and understanding is the responsibility
of all teachers. Unfortunately the teachers feel that certain
factors in the school system may be obstacles for bioethics education.
Obstacles to Bioethics Education in India
1. The current shift system in many schools with the changed school timings is most unfavourable to the objectives of Bioethics education. Children spend less time in school. They have to leave school as soon as the regular classes are over as the next shift would start. Therefore the teachers and the students have limited contact with each other. In fact, many activities are possible only after regular class hours which the present shift system does not favour.
2. Moral science classes give greater scope for discussion of bioethics. Unfortunately in today's curriculum there is decreased importance for moral education and in some schools, moral education classes are used for other purposes by teachers.
3. Major focus of education today is academic activity. Therefore teaching is focussed towards preparation for examination. The teachers and students have no time for planning for other extra curricular activities.
4. Teachers experience pressure
for time due to many roles they play. Hence they lack the enthusiasm
and the motivation for forming science association or holding
seminars and exhibition.
Major Recommendations for Incorporating Bioethics Education in the High School Curriculum
1. Most of the issues of Bioethics education arise from genetic engineering and hence genetic engineering may be included in the curriculum through language and biology.
2. Facts and principles of various issues may be included in lower classes up to 10th standard and practical application towards human welfare in Higher Secondary Classes.
3. Bioethics education will gain significance when it is treated as a special subject or as a separate unit in the syllabus.
4. Text books have to be written involving people engaged in the scientific research
5. Group discussion method,
case studies, interviews with specialists and above all field
trips to important research stations and birds and animal sanctuaries
could be the methodology to teach Bioethics.
The most important message of this survey is that teachers are in support of bioethics education and people in different countries share similar views on most of the issues of science and technology. The results of the study focus on the ability of the teachers to balance the benefits and risks of science and technology and the desire to develop in their students the right attitude to life, people and environment.
`Bioethics Education' having gained a strong support for inclusion in the curriculum needs further research, to find answers to many other pertinent questions that would complement and reinforce its objectives.
1. What bioethical issues should be included in curriculum?
2. Can bioethical issues be classified to correspond to the subjects taught in schools?
3. At what level should bioethical maturity begin?
4. How can the bioethics maturity be graded for school children?
5. How should bioethics maturity be evaluated?
6. Who makes the decisions for 1, 2,3?
7. Who should be involved in writing text books and other materials?
8. What methods are to be devised to teach bioethical issues through formal and non-formal methods of education?
9. How do the diverse cultural factors affect the growth of bioethical maturity of Indian children?
An extension of this small research in the above direction would certainly reveal the immediate need for BIOETHICS EDUCATION IN HIGH SCHOOL CURRICULUM.
Asada, Y., Akiyama, S., Tsuzuki, M., Macer, N.Y. & Macer, D.R.J. (1996) High school teaching of bioethics in New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. Journal of Moral Education , 25, 401-420.
Macer, D.R.J., Asada, Y., Tsuzuki, M., Akiyama, S., & Macer, N.Y. Bioethics in high schools in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, 200pp., A4, ISBN 0-908897-08-1 (Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1996).
We acknowledge the help of Asada,
Y., Tsuzuki, M., Akiyama, S., & Macer, N.Y. in the surveys
in Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
To Bioethics in India book contents
To Eubios Ethics Institute books
To Eubios Ethics Institute home page