Open Access Research article

Knowledge of evolution and human diversity: a study among high school students of Rome, Italy

Fabrizio Rufo12*, Marco Capocasa12, Veronica Marcari2, Enzo D’arcangelo3 and Maria Enrica Danubio24

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology and Biotechnology “Charles Darwin”, Sapienza University of Rome, Piazzale Aldo Moro 5, Rome, 00185, Italy

2 Istituto Italiano di Antropologia, Rome, Italy

3 Department of Statistical Sciences, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy

4 Department of Life, Health and Environmental Sciences, University of L’Aquila, L’Aquila, Italy

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Evolution: Education and Outreach 2013, 6:19  doi:10.1186/1936-6434-6-19

Published: 21 June 2013

Abstract

Background

This research investigated the knowledge of the complex concept of evolution in a sample (n=1108) of final-year high school students of Rome. Particular attention was given to the evolution of Homo sapiens and to human diversity at the biological and cultural level. Obtained results were analysed in relation to the socio-cultural context of the students. The final objective of the research is to provide teachers, curriculum developers and policy makers with results on basic knowledge on evolution and human diversity of students who are to face the University.

Methods

The research was conducted using an ad hoc questionnaire in five scientific (Liceo scientifico) and four humanistic (Liceo classico) high schools of Rome. The research involved the final-year students, those who are supposed to have a global basic knowledge of cultural and biological aspects of the evolutionary theory. The research project, its aims and modes of realisation were presented and discussed in detail with Deans, teachers and students of the Institutions that volunteered to participate.

Results

The results show: (1) good knowledge and substantial acceptance of the evolutionary perspective; (2) that cultural and biological diversity are considered as decisive factors in modelling the present-day differences between human groups; (3) that, nonetheless, more than half the students still hold to a classificatory conception of human populations; (4) that the family cultural background is significantly relevant in the education of children.

Conclusions

Results of the research highlight some useful recommendations that should contribute to the work of teachers, curriculum developers and policy makers as they refer to what students have learned about evolution and human diversity. These results confirm the fundamental importance of investment in education.

Keywords:
Knowledge of evolution; Human diversity; Main determinants; Rome