Third B.I.O. International Conference, Athens, June 1989
PROPOSALS FOR A BIOCENTRIC CURRICULUM
Decision-makers met for the Third B.I.O. International Conference on Biopolitics – Curriculum Revision in order to initiate a worldwide bio-syllabus. It was acknowledged that there is an urgent need to incorporate the values of appreciation and a better understanding of bios (life) at all levels of education and that efforts would be to incorporate the progress of the biological sciences in fields such as theology, philosophy, diplomacy, economics, law, media, since technology may be viewed as a pathway leading to a better future. While setting the long-range philosophy of bio-education, immediate changes need to be incorporated in primary, secondary and university education. Public opinion is changing from day to day and the demands for the preservation and appreciation of bios are of utmost importance.
The fruitful outcome of this important meeting was the proposal for a bio-syllabus. Statement of Justification Maintaining and promoting bios (life) has, in general, become the most complex and urgent task facing humanity. Progress in technology has given hope for a more abundant and satisfying future. The horizons of human thought and understanding seem unlimited. Yet, at the same time, technology is also seen as life-threatening, challenging humanity’s cherished beliefs, creating in its wake immense moral dilemmas as well as legal concerns. To ensure that bios remains at the center of human concern, it is imperative that technology be guided by appropriate values.
An important recommendation adopted at the First B.I.O. International Conference held in May 1987 was the preparation and promotion of bios-oriented educational programmes in national educational systems. This recommendation was subsequently reaffirmed at the Second B.I.O. International Conference in October 1988 where it was proposed that a bios curriculum for pre-school, secondary and tertiary educational institutions be formulated. The Third B.I.O. International Conference held in June 1989 addressed itself to this task.
The bio-syllabus proposed by the Third B.I.O. International Conference stresses the need for a unified understanding of life and its multifaceted manifestations and processes. More than just the concern for the protection of the environment, it envisages not only the identification, promotion and institutionalisation of values and attitudes that are necessary for the maintenance of bios but also the protection of vital ecosystems by the intelligent application of technological know-how for the enrichment of life. Bios, on the one hand, and biotechnological development, on the other, constitute two interacting components whose relationship with each other must be guided by appropriate values and principles to achieve desirable outcomes. A bio-syllabus is both cognitive, emphasising knowledge about bios, and evaluational emphasising right values or attitudes towards bio-assessment.
Appreciation of bios can assume many forms – in the manner bios is presented as a manifestation or in the incorporation of bios topics in teaching subjects such as history, literature, geography, social studies, civics, music and elementary science. In doing so, pupils should be provided with sound basic simplified knowledge of bios and at the same time, learn to relate to bios with sensitivity, understanding and intelligence.
Methods and Procedures
To realise the broad aims presented, considerations should be given to assisting students to acquire an appreciation of nature, its rhythms and processes. This could be achieved by cultivating their powers of observation through sharpening their senses to sight, sound, smell, feeling and touch. Two sets of procedures could be followed: the purely didactic involving telling/explaining, shocking, informing and subject focus teaching and the less didactic involving individual research, information-handling, values clarification, motivating and decision-making skills. In addition to pure teaching, students could be encouraged to develop practical applications protecting the bio-environment. Teachers should encourage students to raise moral, ethical, religious, political, economic and other questions to assist them in arriving at appropriate value decisions.
At this level, the study of bios can be more focused either in terms of themes or subjects. The presentation of bios topics can be done through the relevant subjects taught at the secondary schools. Though teaching at this level tends to be disciplined or subject-oriented, e.g. language, literature, history, biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc., the need to deal with bios and bio-related topics as a unified area of knowledge and values should be recognised. However, it is important that students gradually come to realise that ecosystems are governed by common laws whether physical, biological or chemical and in the case of human beings, by values and norms.
The overall aim at this level should be to develop the students ability both to observe and inquire about bios thus deepening their understanding of the relationship between human beings and the bio-environment. In addition, students can be helped to seek problems pertaining to bios and in the process learn to imbibe the process of inquiry and the scientific ethos. At the more advanced level (grades 10-12 or upper secondary), the aims of the bio-syllabus should include inter alia:
– teaching students how to discover regularities or underlying principles in the bio-environment
– assisting students in identifying and analysing causes pertaining to bios and natural phenomena so as to develop unified ways of viewing and thinking
– helping students to understand the harmony despite diversity and variety in bios
– teaching students that all natural phenomena have a history governed largely by their habitat thereby heightening interest in the preservation of biotic forms
– helping students to understand that human life is maintained by dynamic balance in the bio-environment
– deepening students’ knowledge regarding the action of man and its impact on the bio-environment stressing the role of culture and values
Methods and Procedures
The focus at this level of study should not only be the appreciation of bios but also consciousness of bios in all its varied forms and manifestations. To realise this as an objective, a variety of activities and approaches may be attempted. To help students develop an appreciation of bios, various experiences should be provided through field studies; the use of audio-visual materials; the setting-up of laboratory experiments and the organisation of talks, debates and discussions on bios. Other more innovative methods may also be attempted such as simulation dramatic presentations of bios, record-keeping and bio-reporting.
Both the cognitive understanding of bios and the values pertaining to bios should constitute the basis for the structuring of the bio-syllabus at the secondary level. This means that science subjects should attempt to teach knowledge about bios as well as sensitise students to appropriate values pertaining to the promotion of bios. Subjects of a humanistic or social science orientation such as history, geography, social studies and music, should help to develop the sensitivity of students to and appreciation of values including the rhythms of life. The contents of the bio-syllabus should include:
– a firm understanding of the chemical basis of life – the development of organic living things from organic matter
– an understanding of cellular structure and function
– knowledge of heredity and genetics including the interaction of heredity and environment in determining behavioural outcomes
– an understanding of viruses and their role in relation to disease
– an appreciation of the evolutionary sequence from primordial life to the present
– an understanding of the biology of man and its various systems viz., circulatory, skeletal, digestive, nervous, reproductive, excretory and endocrine
– knowledge of the invertebrates and their behavioral characteristics
– knowledge of flowerless plants such as algae, phytoplankton, fungi, mosses and ferns and their evolutionary significance
– appreciation of ecological relationships including the structure and diversity of ecological communities
– appreciation of biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem
– an understanding of population growth, regulation and interaction including the concept of mutation as the ultimate science of genetic change
As in the case of elementary schools, teachers at the secondary schools should endeavor to engage students in dialogue sessions on the various problems pertaining to bios and its maintenance. Such dialogue sessions could be issue or subject-oriented. The key concern should be the creation of a balanced and morally-sensitive perspective regarding bios. Given the diversity of cultural traditions and the unique existential circumstances underlying human societies, it is imperative that the approaches proposed to promote bios through education be modified and adapted according to the availability of resources and the perception of needs. It is important that students have both the intellectual and emotional maturity to engage actively in organised efforts to promote the objectives of bios both at the school and community levels.
Because of the great variety of disciplines and teaching programmes at the undergraduate level, it would not be possible to propose a detailed systematic bio-syllabus suitable for all students. However, it is assumed that students at this point of their learning experience would have absorbed the spirit of scientific inquiry and at the same time, deepened their understanding of the bio-environment as it relates to human societies. Similarly, it is assumed that they would have developed appropriate concerns and attitudes towards bios in general guided at the same time by a sense of service and responsibility.
Since university undergraduates are the potential leaders and decision-makers of society, it is necessary that they possess the requisite knowledge and public sense to discharge their responsibilities in the interest of bios. In an industrial capital-oriented society, certain categories of professional expertise play greater roles or exercise greater influence in determining decisions affecting bios. In this connection, tertiary educational institutions are encouraged to make available bios or bios-related courses at the undergraduate level on an urgent and formal basis. In doing so, it might be necessary to provide built-in incentive systems to ensure that the students adopt a serious attitude toward the concerns of the courses. The department or the faculty must regard these courses as integral to the overall professional education of the under-graduates. In conducting such courses, departmental or faculty staff may bear in mind the following guiding principles:
– the need to develop appropriate and value-oriented technology, that advances sustainable development
– the need to utilise resources equitably, fairly and efficiently
– the need to ensure viable interdependencies between the bio-environment and economic need
– the need to maximise biological diversity by judicious strategies, and
– the need to monitor population growth to ensure the effective implementation of economic and bio-environment programmes
Educational institutions promoting bios through the adoption of a bio-syllabus should endeavor to engage all forms of media (satellite broadcasts, newspapers, magazines both at the popular and professional levels and advertisements) to create and generate public awareness and support for bios and bios-related programmes and initiatives. Bios and its enhancement, in this regard, should be promoted as a total commitment, a way of acting, thinking and feeling which gives a new dimension to life as a global manifestation. In this connection, institutions of higher learning with the requisite resources and commitment should provide the lead in implementing programmes of study and research whether at degree level or in the form of short courses and learning modules on understanding bios. Universities and colleges with law faculties in collaboration with relevant professional organisations should endeavor to formulate model laws dealing with the fundamental concepts and specific issues pertaining to the impact of biotechnological research on bios. If necessary, relevant international organisations and agencies within or without the UN system should be consulted and their assistance sought.
Greece: Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, President and Founder, Biopolitics International Organisation
Singapore: Professor Tham Seong Chee, National University of Singapore, UNA President
Turkey: Professor Rusen Keles, Director, Center for Urban Studies, Faculty of Political Sciences, Ankara University, President, United Nations Association
USA: Professor Nicholas A. Ashford, Policy Center for Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Greece: Professor Constantinos Bonis, former President, Academy of Athens
Greece: Professor Costas A. Cassios, Technical University of Athens
UK: Dr. Terence Duffy, University of Ulster
USA: John Malcolm Forbes, Founder, Teachers’ Center for Global Education, and Chairman, Center for American Studies at Concord
Israel: Mayer Gabay, Civil Service Commissioner, and Former Director, General, Ministry of Justice
Israel: H.E. Ambassador of Israel Mr. Moshe Gilboa
UK: Professor Rom Harre, Department of Philosophy, Oxford University
Turkey: The Very Rev. Meliton Karas, Holy Synod Secretary, Ecumenical Patriarchate
Greece: Professor George Maniatis, School of Biology, University of Patras
Greece: Dr. Aldo Manos, Coordinator, United Nations Environmental Program, Plan of Action for the Mediterranean
Greece: Professor John G. Papaioannou, Athens Center of Ekistics
USA: Professor Giulio Pontecorvo, Director, Center for Business and Government Studies, Columbia University
Greece: Dr. Panayis Psomopoulos, President, Athens Center of Ekistics
UK: Dr. Robert T. Taylor, Representative, British Council
Greece: Professor Constantinos Voudouris, Department of Philosophy, University of Athens