Bioethics in India: Proceedings of the International Bioethics Workshop in Madras: Biomanagement of Biogeoresources, 16-19 Jan. 1997, University of Madras; Editors: Jayapaul Azariah, Hilda Azariah, & Darryl R.J. Macer, Copyright Eubios Ethics Institute 1997.
http://eubios.info/index.html

113. Bioethics Education in High Schools:

An Investigation in Tamil Nadu with Comparisons to Australia, Japan and New Zealand

Cynthia Pandian & Darryl Macer*
Department of Education, University of Madras, Chennai 600 005, INDIA
* Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Science City, Ibaraki 305, JAPAN


Introduction

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

% NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Not Stated 5.9 5.2 28.7 25
Respect for life 3.4 0.8 27.5 42
Natural Providence 1.5 0.8 9.3 0
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
Environmental issues 6.8 3.6 6.3 0
Animal rights/experiments 17.6 8.0 1.1 0
Human Benefit/rights 1.5 2.8 9.3 3
Medical issues 4.4 14.0 5.9 5
Other 2.0 0 6.8 0
Don't Know 0 0.4 2.0 8

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 Bioethics Issues

Items (%) Not heard of it Heard of it Could explain to Discussed it in class
friend No Yes
Agricultural Pesticides 4 24 40 4 64
In Vitro Fertility 8 44 20 20 28
Prenatal Diagnosis 4 28 40 16 12
Biological Pest Control 4 20 32 4 52
Eugenics 4 28 12 8 60
Computers 4 44 16 24 16
Biotechnology 4 16 20 8 76
Nuclear Power 4 36 20 8 48
AIDS 4 20 28 4 84
Human Gene Therapy 8 24 16 20 44
Fibre Optics 20 44 8 20 0
Bioethics 16 56 12 12 16
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

Items NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Agricultural Pesticides 88 85 76 64
In vitro Fertility 84 91 76 28
Prenatal Diagnosis 72 76 -- 12
Biological Pest Control 96 86 65 52
Eugenics 36 38 38 60
Computers 61 60 38 16
Biotechnology 78 79 88 76
Nuclear Power 82 81 61 48
AIDS 94 94 84 84
Human Gene Therapy 66 71 51 44
Fibre Optics 48 40 22 0
Bioethics 67 70 45 16
Genetic Engineering Plant 88 85 42 52
GE- Microorganisms 81 76 66 48
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

% NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Benefit Yes 85 80 80 76
No 10 11 9 8
Don't Know 5 9 11 16
Risk No Worries 25 16 12 56
A Few 39 25 50 16
Some 24 35 26 16
A Lot 12 24 12 4

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
NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Benefit Yes 94 93 95 92
No 0 4 2 4
Don't Know 6 7 3 4
Risk No Worries 42 23 22 68
A Few 37 37 49 16
Some 17 31 21 0
A Lot 4 9 8 8

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 may extinct

Table 7: Agricultural pesticides
NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Benefit Yes 82 86 88 84
No 13 7 7 0
Don't Know 5 7 5 0
Risk No Worries 12 12 11 32
A Few 22 19 34 16
Some 36 39 35 28
A Lot 30 30 20 8

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
NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Benefit Yes 60 75 73 56
No 23 17 18 28
Don't Know 7 8 9 4
Risk No Worries 9 6 7 20
A Few 16 20 21 12
Some 21 32 29 12
A Lot 54 42 43 40

Benefit: For production of Electricity, further invention of new elements

Risk: Can be misused, danger of nuclear war, devastation

Table 9: Computers
NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Benefit Yes 95 93 93 80
No 5 1 2 8
Don't Know 4 6 5 12
Risk No Worries 53 47 57 60
A Few 31 27 32 20
Some 14 20 7 4
A Lot 2 6 4 8

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
NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Benefit Yes 92 94 90 96
No 4 1 4 0
Don't Know 5 5 6 0
Risk No Worries 13 11 15 48
A Few 34 23 44 28
Some 38 39 28 8
A Lot 15 27 14 8

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
Dairy products 24 4 20 40
Vegetables 40 25 12 8
Meat 36 16 16 12
Medicines 20 8 20 14

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

Organism Approve Disapprove Don't know
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
Have More Have More Have More Have More
In vitro Fertilization 77

15

55

21

87

17

50

18

57

7

62

11

32

52

8

16

Prenatal Diagnosis 67

11

56

18

74

14

50

18

40

4

55

11

8

40

20

24

Biotechnology 51

46

62

60

67

49

50

43

47

39

58

49

24

44

44

68

Nuclear Power 60

86

54

66

61

77

47

52

25

66

40

84

20

28

48

68

Agricultural Pesticides 59

86

53

72

43

90

41

57

18

52

28

71

8

36

68

60

Genetic Engineering 85

44

72

53

90

53

57

44

52

30

71

42

36

56

48

48

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 day incidents.

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

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 Education

New Zealand Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Very much 47 56 35 60
Some 51 41 51 36
Neither 2 2 13 0
Not really needed 5 1 1 0
Not needed 0 0 4 4

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

Materials NZ Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Not stated 20 22 35 6
Video/TV 13 19 5 32
Text Book 12 7 5 26
Other Books 3 2 3 8
Collect Materials 1 0 0 -
News papers & Magazines 2 2 2 8
Many things 15 24 17 -
Discussion 44 33 7 12
Fact Sheets 13 8 10 6
Need New Information 14 11 9 7
Reference 3 1 0 36
Experimental Ideas 3 1 1 24
Teaching Course 4 3 5 25
Don't Need 3 2 2 -
Don't Know 5 4 2 -

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.

Conclusion

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.

References

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.


Please send comments to Email < Macer@biol.tsukuba.ac.jp >.

To Bioethics in India book contents
To Eubios Ethics Institute books
To Eubios Ethics Institute home page