Bioethics education among Singapore high school science teachers

- Darryl Macer, Ph.D.* and Chin Choon Ong, Ph.D.**
Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba,
Tsukuba Science City 305-8572, Japan
Email: asianbioethics@yahoo.co.nz
**Dept. of Chemistry, Singapore Polytechnic,
500 Dover Road, SINGAPORE 139651
Email: ONGCC@sp.edu.sg

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 9 (1999), 138-145.


The teaching of bioethics in high schools has been surveyed among biology and social studies in Australia, Japan and New Zealand by the International Bioethics Survey in 1993 (Macer et al. 1996). That survey revealed that bioethical issues are being taught in many subjects even though it is not in the curriculum. Also that there are differences in the way bioethics is taught. In 1996 a survey of 100 biology teachers in Tamil Nadu, India was conducted (Pandian and Macer, 1997).

This paper describes the results of the same survey conducted on three batches of science and chemistry teachers attending training courses at Singapore Polytechnic in April 1997 (N=26), 1998 (N=59) and 1999 (N=67). Over this time there was a general trend towards more knowledge of some of the selected areas, but the most significant difference was that 22% of the 1999 teachers said they had taught bioethics issues, compared to 4% in 1997 and 1998. In this paper we compare the results of the surveys among science teachers for New Zealand (NZ N=206); Australia (Aus N=251); Japan (Jpn N=560); Tamil Nadu (In N=100); and Singapore (Si N=151). Of the Singapore teachers, 7% also said they taught civics or some other social studies class.

Sample characteristics

The teachers in Singapore were taking training courses for the Ministry of Education from Dr. Ong, and they were surveyed for their opinions. After completing the surveys they also discussed some bioethics issues, so the survey had an educational impact as well.

Most of the schools were public, with 86% being public urban, and 9% public rural schools, with 5% private urban and none being private rural schools. The school sizes are compared in Table 1, and reveal that schools in Singapore tended to be larger than those except in Tamil Nadu. Most teachers were teaching general science, as well as many chemistry, with 4% biology as specialized subject. This is significantly less than in the other samples.

Of the teachers, 71% female and 64% married. Half, 49%, had no children; 6% one child; 28% two; and 27% more than two children. 2% said they were pregnant. 96% were living in urban areas. They tended to have less postgraduate degrees than Australia or New Zealand, with 86% being graduates and13% postgraduate. For ethnicity: 7% were Indian, 1 teacher was African, and the rest were Asian. The mean age was 35.6 years. Half the sample considered religion to be very important in their daily life , with the responses being: (Very important 49%; Somewhat important 35%; Not too important 14%; and Not important at all 2%).


Table 1: School and Teacher Characteristics (%)

Student number NZ Aus Jpn In Si

<200 6.3 3.6 4.9 0 1

200-600 26.2 42.9 20.1 0 5

<1500 61.2 51.2 67.3 12 48

1500+ 6.3 2.4 7.7 88 46


Table 2: Images of Bioethics (%)
%
Singapore
N Z
Australia
Japan
India
Not Stated
15
5.9
5.2
28.7
25
Respect for life
2
3.4
0.8
27.5
42
Natural Providence
2
1.5
0.8
9.3
0
A very important subject
0
1.0
0
1.6
5
How we should use life
6
28.8
26.8
6.8
0
Science/Bio. raises issues
41
32.2
28.8
2.1
6
People face issues
2
0.5
0
1.3
0
Debate is useful
3
1.0
0.4
2.5
0
Decide before use
0
9.8
14.0
4.1
0
How to apply Biotechnology
10
14.1
19.2
5.3
6
Don't trust Science
0
0
0
0.2
0
Environmental issues
3
6.8
3.6
6.3
0
Animal rights/experiments
10
17.6
8.0
1.1
0
Human Benefit/rights
3
1.5
2.8
9.3
3
Medical issues
3
4.4
14.0
5.9
5
Other
1
2.0
0
6.8
0
Don't Know
10
0
0.4
2.0
8

Table 3: Knowledge of Bioethics Issues in Singapore (%)

Items (%) Not heard of it Heard of it Could explain to friend Discussed it in class
No
Yes
Agricultural Pesticides
3
47
50
43
57
In Vitro Fertilization
8
43
50
79
21
Prenatal Diagnosis
17
58
26
87
13
Biological Pest Control
14
53
32
78
22
Eugenics
64
30
7
95
5
Computers
0
21
8
41
59
Biotechnology
1
55
44
61
39
Nuclear Power
1
37
62
36
64
AIDS
2
31
67
50
50
Human Gene Therapy
16
60
24
89
11
Fibre Optics
8
66
27
82
18
Bioethics
41
53
6
92
8
Genetic Engineering - Plants
5
67
28
86
14
Genetic Eng. - Microorganisms
28
52
20
88
12
Genetic Engineering - Animals
6
68
26
80
20

Images of Bioethics

The first open question in the survey asked teachers what their image of bioethics was. Singapore follows the pattern of practical action seen in Australia and New Zealand (Asada et al. 1996; Macer et al . 1996), more than the respect for life concerns of Japan and India. However there are less how to use life comments than in Australasia, which may suggest some Asian tendency not to express to use life so much.

Ethical Concern about Animal Experiments

In Singapore 32% used animals. Most, 81%, thought that they were necessary to teach biology. 67% said that they had had ethical concerns when using animals in school, and 51% said that students had had concerns. Only 16% said their school had guidelines on animal experiments, 58% said their school did not, with 26% saying they did not know. There is an apparent lack of knowledge of guidelines on the treatment of animals in high schools as expressed by teachers also in Tamil Nadu (80%) but also in Japan (90%) (Pandian & Macer 1998, Tsuzuki et al., 1998).


Table 4: Perceptions of Benefit or Risk in Science and Technology Developments (%)
 
%
Singapore
NZ
Australia
Japan
Tamil Nadu
Benefit Yes
82
85
80
80
76
IVF No
4
10
11
9
8
Don't Know
14
5
9
11
16
Risk No Worries
24
25
16
12
56
A Few
27
39
25
50
16
Some
38
24
35
26
16
A Lot
11
12
24
12
4
Benefit Yes
94
94
93
95
92
Biotech No
1
0
4
2
4
Don't Know
5
6
7
3
4
Risk No Worries
34
42
23
22
68
A Few
28
37
37
49
16
Some
30
17
31
21
0
A Lot
8
4
9
8
8
Benefit Yes
86
82
86
88
84
Pesticide No
10
13
7
7
0
Don't Know
5
5
7
5
0
Risk No Worries
15
12
12
11
32
A Few
25
22
19
34
16
Some
43
36
39
35
28
A Lot
18
30
30
20
8
Benefit Yes
67
60
75
73
56
Nuclear No
25
23
17
18
28
Power Don't Know
8
7
8
9
4
Risk No Worries
5
9
6
7
20
A Few
8
16
20
21
12
Some
32
21
32
29
12
A Lot
54
54
42
43
40
Benefit Yes
99
95
93
93
80
Computer No
1
5
1
2
8
Don't Know
0
4
6
5
12
Risk No Worries
35
53
47
57
60
A Few
30
31
27
32
20
Some
27
14
20
7
4
A Lot
8
2
6
4
8
Benefit Yes
74
92
94
90
96
Genetic No
16
4
1
4
0
Engineering Don't Know
10
5
5
6
0
Risk No Worries
8
13
11
15
48
A Few
18
34
23
44
28
Some
35
38
39
28
8
A Lot
39
15
27
14
8

Table 5: Concern for Genetically Modified Organism by Teachers in Singapore (%)
 
Products No A Few Some A lot
Dairy products
10
10
34
46
Vegetables
12
11
35
41
Meat
10
10
32
49
Medicines
17
15
32
36

Table 6: Approval of environmental release of GMOs (%)

Organism
Approve
Disapprove
Don't know
Tomatoes with better taste
64
33
3
Healthier meat (e.g. less fat)
68
27
5
Larger sport fish 
39
51
11
Bacteria to clean up oil spills
86
9
5
Disease resistant crops
71
20
10
Cows which produce more milk
50
42
7

Table 7: 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
43
48
2
4
3
b. Reduce the risk of developing a fatal disease later in life
28
48
12
5
7
c. Prevent children from inheriting a usually fatal disease
39
46
5
5
5
d. Prevent children from inheriting a non-fatal disease, such as diabetes
29
46
13
9
3
e. Improve the physical characteristics that children would inherit
11
18
34
35
3
f. Improve the intelligence level that children would inherit
10
17
34
36
3

Table 8: Comparative Teaching of Selected Topics in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Tamil Nadu High Schools (%)

Items
Singapore
NZ
Australia
Japan
Tamil Nadu
Agricultural Pesticides
57
88
85
76
64
In Vitro Fertilization
21
84
91
76
28
Prenatal Diagnosis
13
72
76
--
12
Biological Pest Control
22
96
86
65
52
Eugenics
5
36
38
38
60
Computers
59
61
60
38
16
Biotechnology
39
78
79
88
76
Nuclear Power
64
82
81
61
48
AIDS
50
94
94
84
84
Human Gene Therapy
11
66
71
51
44
Fibre Optics
18
48
40
22
0
Bioethics
8
67
70
45
16
Genetic Engineering - Plants
14
88
85
42
52
Genetic Eng. - Microorganisms
12
81
76
66
48
Genetic Engineering - Animals
20
81
85
59
60

Table 10: Current Discussion and More Scope in Curriculum (% agree)
Singapore
New Zealand
Australia
Japan
Tamil Nadu
Top-Social or ethical Bot-Environments
Have
More
Have
More
Have
More
Have
More
Have
More
In vitro Fertilization
27

1

74

14

77

15

55

21

87

17

50

18

57

7

62

11

32

52

8

16

Prenatal Diagnosis
18

1

66

15

67

11

56

18

74

14

50

18

40

4

55

11

8

40

20

24

Biotechnology
21

22

75

57

51

46

62

60

67

49

50

43

47

39

58

49

24

44

44

68

Nuclear Power
26

63

61

75

60

86

54

66

61

77

47

52

25

66

40

84

20

28

48

68

Agricultural Pesticides
14

52

48

78

59

86

53

72

43

90

41

57

18

52

28

71

8

36

68

60

Genetic Engineering
36

6

88

34

85

44

72

53

90

53

57

44

52

30

71

42

36

56

48

48

Table 11: General Attitude Statements (%)

Statements
Agree strongly
Agree
Neither
Disagree
Disagree strongly
a. Science makes an important contribution to the quality of life
64
34
1
0
1
b. Most problems can be solved by applying more and better technology
16
41
18
23
2
c. The natural environment has a valuable property that humans should not tamper with
46
40
9
5
0
d. Genetically modified plants and animals will help agriculture become less dependent on chemical pesticides
12
50
24
12
2
e. Students should be informed about the social issues associated with science and technology so that they can participate in contemporary debates
52
40
5
3
1
f. A woman can abort a 4 month old fetus
2
8
15
29
46
g. A woman can abort a 4 month old fetus that has congenial abnormalities
14
33
24
15
14
h. A married couple can use a surrogate mother and in vitro Fertilization if they cannot get pregnant themselves
5
24
20
27
24
i. Animals have rights that people should not violate
18
44
26
9
3
j. Scientists have mostly left it to others to communicate science to public
8
46
22
22
1
k. Public understanding and awareness of science is generally very poor
17
53
20
9
1
l. Scientists are obscure and unapproachable
7
21
36
35
1
m. Genetic engineering and its applications should be taught as a topic in the school biology syllabus
19
67
10
2
2
n. The school biology syllabus should include discussion of the issues involved in science and technology
34
58
5
2
1

Table 12: Need for Bioethics Education (%)

Singapore New Zealand Australia Japan Tamil Nadu
Very much
51
47
56
35
60
Some
44
51
41
51
36
Neither
4
2
2
13
0
Not really needed
1
5
1
1
0
Not needed
0
0
0
4
4

Table 13: Required Teaching Materials (%)

Materials
Singapore
NZ
Australia
Japan
Tamil Nadu
Not stated
27
20
22
35
6
Video/TV
14
13
19
5
32
Text Book
4
12
7
5
26
Other Books
2
3
2
3
8
Collect Materials
1
1
0
0
-
News papers & Magazines
10
2
2
2
8
Many things
20
15
24
17
-
Discussion
13
44
33
7
12
Fact Sheets
13
13
8
10
6
Need New Information
11
14
11
9
7
Reference
4
3
1
0
36
Experimental Ideas
1
3
1
1
24
Teaching Course
6
4
3
5
25
Don't Need
1
3
2
2
-
Don't Know
9
5
4
2
-

Current Teaching of Social Ethical and Environmental Issues

The results of the survey are presented in the tables here. Table 9 compares the teaching of specific issues and finds that bioethics and eugenics are the topics least taught among those selected, in Singapore. This is significantly less than all other countries, and we would like to explore further among biology and social studies teachers. It is especially interesting given that Singapore had a postive eugenics policy in the 1980s. However, pesticides, nuclear power, AIDS and computers were discussed by half the teachers, with 39% having discussed biotechnology.

Table 10 reveals more positive news that a number of teachers have discussed social and ethical issues associated with science and technology developments, although still less than in the other countries except India, but environmental issues have been discussed. Moreover there is positive support for inclusion of ethical issues into the curriculum (marked more in Table 10). Therefore we hope that there is development of curriculum to include these issues, and respond to the overwhelming call for bioethics education (Table 11, 12). Here Singapore teachers, like the other countries were over 90% in favour of bioethics education. There will need to be teaching materials developed to support this, as indicated by the responses to the questionnaire.


References

Note these references are on-line, see <http://eubios.info/BHS.html>

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).

Pandian, C. & Macer, DRJ. gAn Investigation in Tamil Nadu with Comparisons to Australia, Japan and New Zealandh, pp 390-400 in Azariah J., Azariah H., & Macer DRJ., eds., Bioethics in India (Eubios Ethics Institute 1998).

Tsuzuki, M., Asada, Y., Akiyama, S., Macer, N.Y. & Macer, D.R.J. (1998) gAnimal experiments and bioethics in high schools in Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. Journal of Biological Education 32: 119-126.

Acknowledgements

We warmly acknowledge the help of Ms. Minakshi Bhardwaj in data input, and are indebted to all the teachers who gave their responses to the survey.


Comments to some open questions
Q. Bioethics is??
Moral issues pertaining to the application of biology/technology. S3
Men have moral responsibility to apply biotechnology in proper and responsible way.
S4
Relation between genetic improvement and social ethics. S6
About the right things and the wrong things that the scientists do in biology and biotechnology. S7
The social and moral implications of biotechnology in modern society. S8
Values regarding biological /medical issues. S9
Ethical issues connected to the advances of biological sciences. S11
Rules and laws regulating experiments. S13
The right and wrong (in ethics)of the application of biology. S14
No idea. S18
Studies in biology ? Ethical issue in science. S20
Ethics on biological experiments. Like cloning and genetic engineering. S21
The study of how to improve the foetus. S22
Ethics associated with living things. S24
A code of values needed in dealing with new technology. S27
Applications of biology /sciences to social studies and daily life and agriculture i.e. facing issues involving development of science. S28
Not sure. S29, S30, S31
Moral obligations of applications of science in tampering with cause of nature. S33
Donft know. S34
Ethical issues to do with biotechnology. S36
Proper way of leading life or living. S38
Life principles. S39, S40, S43
Moral issues related to biological science (?). S42
Incorporating principles and philosophy of life in the teaching of biology. S45
About ethical issues of biotechnology. S46
Moral issues involved in bioscience. S47
Study of biology and relation to religion. S48
Issues of ethics in the field of medicine. S50
The right and wrong in the biological experimentation. S51
Ethics / code of conduct in biotechnical research. S52
No idea. S53 ? S74
Making decision concerning what is right / wrong in grey areas arisen because of improving technology. S54
Ethics of teaching of biology and scientific research. S59
Ethical issues in biology. S60
Ethical issues revolving around biological issues e.g. transplants. S62
Ethical issues associated with people and animals. S63
Good for mankind. S64
Ethics in use of life. S65
Love of life. S66
Ethical issues involving use of animals for experiments. S67
Ethical and moral issues regarding biological experiments. S70
Code of behavior in dealing with biological materials. S71
Ethics involved in experiments of living organisms. (love of life). S72
Ethical issues in biology. S77
Moral issues to do with science. S80
Ethics in biology ?. S81
Not sure. S82
Ethics involving experiments and applications of science / biology. S83
Study of knowledge of bio and its use in technology. S84
Ethical issues concerning biology e.g. genetic engineering. S86, S87
Application of biology / chemistry that is guided by acceptable norm , moral values. S90
Use of ethics in the field of biology . Ethical approach in Bio ? S91
Ethical issues about applications of biological sciences and technology. S92
Morality and responsibility in the application of biology. S93
No idea. S94
Moral issues involved in the biological areas. e.g. cloning, genetic engineering. S96
Social and Moral issues pertaining biotechnology or genetic engineering involving things. S97
Ethical and moral judgment governing certain biology related issues. S98
Concerns about moral issue on biological experiments / products. S99
Study of human behavior in moral issues. S100
Moral issues in involved in certain biological experiments / research. S103
The areas on the morality and ethics primarily on scientific related discoveries developments and researches and the applications of products as a result of the above mentioned activities, where human lives are affected in one way or another. S105
Ethics that deals with biological studies and disciplines. S106
No idea. S109, S110
Being responsible to mankind And the earth. S111
The applications of the science in the responsible, humane and morally acceptable manner. S112
The moral rights for applications of certain technologies. S113
Moral issues related to the use of science in our environment. S115
Not to rule over the law of nature. S116
Using animals for experiments. S117
The moral aspect in the applications of biological knowledge. S118
Moral and social ethics in relations to biology. S119
Ethics in biological studies. S123, S124
Moral issues regarding killing if biological lives. S125
Manfs moral responsibility and society in the use of application of their knowledge in biology. S126
Ethics in involved in research involving mixing of genes. S127
Social and Moral issues related to the environment / scientific developments. S128
The guiding principles (much regards to the moral considerations in the applications of science affecting human, animals and society.) S129
It deals with the ethics together with biology ( living things).S130
Teaching of ethics in relation to biology. S131
No idea. S132, 139
Ethics involved in genetic engineering and biotechnology. S133
That has to do with ethics and morality in the application of biological knowledge. S134
Professionalism and moral implications of the applications of science to nature./ environment / human beings. S137
Consideration of moral issues when conducting experiments using live animals etc. S140
Not heard of it. S141
Ethics or behavior related to doing biological experiments. S142
Moral issues concerning science ( mainly biology ). S144
doing actions that are good / bad. S145
Ethical issues in biotechnology. S147
Being aware of the rights and wrongs where use of animals is concerned, to kill or not to kill. That includes humans like euthanasia. S152
To teach people the right way to treat animals. S85
Q21
Moral decisions most be justified. S3
A new topic which is total ignorant to the students. S17
To widen the scope of knowledge. S18
To reduce misuse of knowledge. S22
people in the world should care and concern about their environment. Nature thing is beautiful. S23
To be aware of the topics. S25
To ensure that students are aware of the pros and cons in the development of science. S28
Students need to be made more aware of the consequences of certain scientific experiments. To prevent irresponsible behavior and abuse. S39
To allow students to see both sides of the story. S40
These are the issues we face in the 21 century. There is no escaping them. We have to
develop a stand to judge because moral issues will surface. S54
So that our children will be more aware of the situation so that they can make their own informed decisions. S57
Increase awareness. S58, S59
Enable students to be conscious of morality and respect otherfs views.
Because an educated man may not be morally right . S65
Strike a balance. S66
Animal is a living organism. S68
Students need to know the impact of their actions on the environment and society and thus become responsible adults in the future. S70
Helps the pupils to analyse and think with ( feelings) about the issues in bioethics. S91
N.A. S101, S136
So that students may be educated and from there they can decide for themselves later in life for other related issues. S107
To make teachers and students aware of the significance of genetic engineering and what social issues are entailed in sec.4 and above. S108
Not sure. S110
To become a responsible science person. S111
Part of training of a young scientists. S116
To identify the moral / issue before applying the knowledge. S118
So that students will understand them. S119
To make students more responsible adults when they graduate. S129
Knowledge are closely linked. S141
Science is developing at a fast rate. We are talking about cloning of humans now. S144
Need to transmit values clearly. S145
Q22
Pictures on effects of mishandling / abuse. S2
Textbook, CD ROM, apparatus for experiments. S7
Films and computer simulations. S8
Text , video tapes. S9
Donft know. S10
Books, computer software, internet information (especially on current update issues). S11
Video and slides. S13
Balanced material with pros -cons views. S14
Videos, samples and real life situations. S17
Notes, some teaching aids like transparency if possible. S18
Questions to pose to pupils, effect, alternatives. S19
Case studies. S21
Examples of unethical practices. S22
No comments as I am not a biology teacher. S23, S82
Video tapes and CD ROM. S24
Not sure. S28, S107, S141, S145
Donft know. S29, S48, S80, S127
Current newspaper cuttings + views from both the camps. S33
?.S34
N.A. S35, S74, S78, S101, S136, S142
Videotapes on effects / consequences. Real life stories. S39
Include latest developments and discovery. S40
Articles on relevant issues. S42
Case studies. S46
Up to date information. S49
Recent articles on advances, informed reviews. S52
Materials to read, Questions to ask, how to continue with leading questions. S54
A proper syllabus with supporting teaching aids like CD ROMs , video etc. S57
Information. S59
Reading materials (relevant)
Videos and questionnaires. S62
Teaching of materials. S64
Articles on animals abuse and testing. S65
Books, internet, newspapers, reports. S69
Articles, tapes, CD ROMs. S70
Real life scenario / stories. S71
Articles. S83
Materials on industrial applications. S84
Videotapes, websites on these topics. S85
Resources and articles. S87
Scenario kind(where students are set to discuss + present their personal opinions). S90
News articles, science articles / reports of the research. S93
Real life talks by scientists, lots if information in newspapers, magazines, case studies for discussions. S94
May be certain issues and guidelines for discussing bioethics in the school syllabus. S98
All the science subjects. S100
What topic to teach? A short course or prepared handouts on how to go about teaching such topics will be useful. S105
Statistics and data. Write ups on incidents e.g. newspaper reviews of incidents, inquiry reports. S106
Latest development in genetic engineering , proper training for the teachers to handle sensitive issues. S108
Materials that show time-life stories and case study references. S112
More reading materials of up to date issues. S114
Audio-visual aids, Real life examples. S115
Data and examples form different countries. S116
Books. S117
Videotapes, interactive software on ethical issues
Facts and figures. S119
Topics related to Q16. S123
Videos, reading materials, and any materials that will create bioethics awareness in students. S124
Latest developments / research; papers published so that teachers are prepared and well equipped. S126
Actual examples, current information from all and the world of science. S129
Some real examples. S133
Articles. S135
Training, relevant knowledge. S137
Background information for teachers. S138
Yes. S139
Information- past, present, future ideas development. S144
Supporting materials which are up to date. S147
Respect for human life (e.g. issue of euthanasia.)
Go back to EJAIB 9(5) September 1999
Go back to EJAIB
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