Finally some sense can be seen in the American south.

Alabama is updating its decade-old science standards to require that students understand evolution and learn about climate change. Now to us here in England it seems preposterous that those topics wouldn’t be taught but they remain controversial in the Bible Belt state.

Educators say the new rules, which constitutes part of a major change, that includes more experimentation and hands-on instruction and less lecturing, don’t require that students believe in evolution or accept the idea that climate is changing globally. Although both of these things are accepted by 99% of the scientific community and an ever growing number of everyday people worldwide.

However public school students will be required for the first time to understand the theory of evolution. What’s more teachers will be required to address climate change openly and honestly in class. The reason that this is not already in place is that the last time these standards were updated, 2005, climate change wasn’t a focus of the state set science standards.

The new standards will take effect in 2016 after being unanimously approved by the Republican-controlled Alabama State Board of Education. A truly shocking decision considering that the Republican party have been vehemently against acknowledging climate change as a factor in the world’s increasing temperature. And perhaps more shocking is the teaching of evolution in a part of the world where some of the citizens believe the Bible’s creation story literally and God created the universe in 7 days, along with man; and woman from the rib of a man.

No one spoke against the new standards when they were discussed at a board meeting in August, but supporters praised them as a step forward for the state.

A 40-member committee that developed the new course of study included people with “very strong religious beliefs” who considered the state’s faith traditions and worked together to develop the new guidelines, said Michal Robinson, science specialist for the state education agency.

“We still have to teach what the science is,” Robinson said in an interview Friday. “If students want to go into a science field in college or beyond, they have to have a foundation.”

The current state standard, which was put in place in 2005, says students “should understand the nature of evolutionary theories,” but such knowledge isn’t required under the current standard.

The new standard goes further, stating in the preface, “The theory of evolution has a role in explaining unity and diversity of life on earth. This theory is substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence. Therefore, this course of study requires our students to understand the principles of the theory of evolution from the perspective of established scientific knowledge. The committee recognizes and appreciates the diverse views associated with the theory of evolution.” Whilst this does not go far enough in my opinion this is absolutely a step in the right direction for a state which has been notoriously anti-science over the past few decades.

Steve Ricks, director of the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, said the biggest changes under the new standards are the teaching methods that will now be used in science classrooms.

The change means that rather than relying solely on lectures and memorization of facts from textbooks, teachers will now be required to let students figure out things on their own through observation and experimentation, just like real scientists. The idea has merit because as we all know when a teacher or lecturer starts droning on we are all liable to tune out if we are not kept engaged by the material. The change to a new method of teaching means that students might be able to draw their own conclusions about evolution and climate change rather than being force fed propaganda.

“I don’t see how students would be able to learn this material without doing the science,” he said. “We are trying to teach kids to reason and solve problems.”

The state course of study only sets minimum standards. Local school officials will still retain the power to make curriculum decisions.

One of the more controversial parts of the new standard is that the textbooks used in Alabama science classes have carried a disclaimer sticker for years stating that evolution is a “controversial theory,” not fact, and the new course of study doesn’t change the warnings, which were advocated by Christian conservatives. Here is where there is a fundamental failing in the education process ‘theory’ in a scientific context is as good as calling something fact, it does not mean, as it does when used in regular day life, a hypothesis.

A committee that will review science texts could consider whether to remove or alter the stickers, officials said. A public hearing is set for Nov. 9 in Montgomery. Provided this hearing can move in favour of removing this note then the new standards are almost all positive. A more scientific approach to learning can only be a positive thing and the move away from the more conservative ideas being pushed in the Bible Belt will mean that the students are much better prepared for the world.