Scientific Literacy and Education
Scientific literacy is becoming a prominent feature within education. In the Science Principles and Practice section of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) (2010) there is an emphasis on this area and that we, as teachers, should be developing scientific literacy within our pupils.
When first being introduced to scientific literacy our thought was that it was based upon knowing a range of scientific language and being able to use them appropriately, but that is the complete opposite of the true definition of scientific literacy. After doing some reading (W. Harlen and A. Qualter, 2009), it was clear that scientific literacy is more than simply understanding scientific language. The definition of scientific literacy is connecting the knowledge children have in science to real life events, so they can analyse and evaluate science based articles to ensure what they are reading is scientifically accurate. Therefore, they will be able to understand that they should not always believe what they read about science in the media. This is a very important aspect we should be teaching children as previous media reports have shown how the public can be easily led by “scientific based” news stories.
The knowledge of scientific literacy is extremely important, especially when you look at examples of when the lack of knowledge has been proven to be dangerous in society. In 1998, a doctor named Andrew Wakefield released a paper on the research he had been doing about the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. As this research was released by an extremely respected medical journal, Lancet, editors and members of the public started to panic. Suddenly anti-MMR stories started to be printed by many other newspapers as people were coming forward with their stories. The country began to think they had been lied to by the medical authorities and turned to the government for reassurance. The press asked the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, what his thoughts on the vaccine were and if he would give it to his son, Leo. He refused to answer and this lead to many stories on the MMR scare being about his son in 2002. Thankfully, an investigation in 2004 led to Lancet coming forward and admitting that the research by Andrew Wakefield was improper and inaccurate. Unfortunately, even after all of this, people still doubted the vaccine and this is all down to the lack in knowledge of scientific literacy. If the public had been scientifically literate, they would have been able to analyse the article and realise for themselves that it was based on inaccurate research and was an unfair experiment. Therefore, it is important to teach scientific literacy within school, through teaching things like fair testing.
Fair testing in science is the process of carrying out a controlled investigation in order to answer a scientific question. Children need to understand that a test is only fair if only one variable is changed during the experiment. Pupils will experiment in science the whole way through school. Therefore, they will develop their skills and knowledge of fair testing and why it is important. It is essential that teachers understand fair testing themselves so as to explain the terminology and concepts of a scientific experiment to pupils. (The School Run, 2018). Scientific literacy is not knowing lots of scientific facts. It is instead an understanding of how science actually works. It is important for children to have good scientific literacy as they progress through school and into further life. Practicing fair testing during school will help them explore science rather than simply learn and retain facts. It is therefore essential as pupils will learn the proper ways to test in science and will be encouraged to answer questions and discover for themselves. Using fair testing through experimentation could create a more positive attitude towards science and improve pupils’ scientific literacy through enjoyment (Durant, J. 1994).
Thus, a focus upon scientific literacy must be emphasised within schools to ensure a new generation of scientifically literate children who do not believe everything they read. This can be done through teaching fair testing and making science relevant to real life.
Durant, J. (1994). What is scientific literacy? European Review, 2(1), 83-89. doi:10.1017/S1062798700000922
The Scottish Government (2010) Curriculum for Excellence: Sciences principles and practice. Available at: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/sciences-pp.pdf(Accessed on: 8th February 2018)
- Harlen and A. Qualter (2009) The Teaching of Science in Primary Schools. 5thedn, London: Routledge
What is a Fair Test? (2018) Available at: https://www.theschoolrun.com/what-is-a-fair-test (Accessed on: 10/02/18)