As scientific literacy is a concept rather than a fact or particular skill set, there seems to be many controversial debates about what scientific literacy is. Millar (2007, P.145-150) states that “scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence-based conclusions”. Whereas, another definition of this concept states that scientific literacy prepares future citizens for “interacting in a global environment needing to know how to learn, adapt, create, communicate, and how to interpret and use information critically”, and be able “to make personal decisions on the basis of a scientific view of the world” (International Baccalaureate National Curriculum Board, 2009, p. 4). The term scientific literacy has defied precise definition since it was introduced in the late 1950’s (Hurd, 1958). This concept is one that many people have tried to define since the late 1950’s however, none have come up with a universally accepted answer, raising the idea that can you ever truly define a concept? an abstract idea? Therefore, can you ever truly define Scientific literacy?
Being scientifically literate is becoming the focus of school science according to Millar (2007). One of the reasons for this could be the devastating consequences of being scientifically illiteracy. Catastrophic results of this scientific illiteracy can be seen in some inaccurate reports published through the media. An example of this can be found in the case of doctors attributing a rise in autism with the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella after studying the effects of the vaccine on 12 children (Laurence, J. 1998). After the report was published in a medical journal (The Lancet), the media backed the claims and began spreading the news (Laurence, J. 2013). This resulted in parents refusing to let their children be immunised against measles, mumps and rubella at once and measles broke out in the United Kingdom even leading to the death of a child. With further testing it was shown that there was no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. (BBC, 2005) This example highlights the need for fair-testing and scientific literacy.
A fair test is one in which only one variable is deliberately changed during an investigation while the others are kept the same (Science Buddies, no date.) The one which you change is known as the independent variable whilst the factors which change impacts are known as the dependent variables. Fair testing in schools is important so that pupils can compare and assess the impact that the one independent factor has on the others.
In schools, fair testing is not taught as its own topic but is used in investigations throughout other scientific topics (The School Run, 2018.) Participating in fair tests throughout their time at school enables pupils to engage in science and develop a deeper understanding of how to effectively carry on a scientific investigation. An understanding of fair testing will help children work towards scientific literacy as they can use their knowledge of scientific procedures to determine whether or not an investigation is accurate. They can therefore decide for themselves if they can trust the results of that investigation.
BBC, (2005) ‘’No link’ between MMR and autism’, BBC News, Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4311613.stm (Accessed on: 16 February 2018)
Hurd, P. DeH (1958). Scientific literacy: Its meaning for American schools. Educational Leadership
International Baccalaureate National Curriculum Board. (2009) Scientific Literacy in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP):NAP-SL Outcomes, available at http://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/ib-research/ibnapsl_report_final_000.pdf (Accessed 16 February 2018)
Laurence, J. (1998) ‘Doctors link autism to MMR vaccination’, Independent, Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/doctors-link-autism-to-mmr-vaccination-1147081.html (Accessed on: 16 February 2018)
Laurence, J. (2013) ‘Timeline: How the Andrew Wakefield MMR Vaccine Scare Story Spread’, Independent, Available at:http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/timeline-how-the-andrew-wakefield-mmr-vaccine-scare-story-spread-8570591.html (Accessed on: 16 February 2018)
Millar, R. (2007) Scientific Literacy; Can the school science curriculum deliver? Communicating European Research 2005, Pages 145-150
Science Buddies, (no date), Available at: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-fair/doing-a-fair-test-variables-for-beginners (Accessed: 10/02/2018)
The School Run, (2018) Available at: https://www.theschoolrun.com/what-is-a-fair-test (Accessed: 10/02/2018)