What is Scientific Literacy?

“Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.”
While this is a definition of scientific literacy, once you begin to look into what it means to be scientifically literate, it is easy to see that it is a little shallow. Being literate in science is about being able to question so-called science based on our knowledge; evaluating scientific stories and discoveries made every day. It is the critical analysis of science that makes us scientifically literate, not the ability to blow things up in a lab. While the UK is above average in terms of literacy rates (OECD study), the curriculum in England is beginning to put more emphasis on scientific literacy, and teachers and pupils alike are beginning to notice the change. Based more in secondary than primary education, teachers notice that while it is trickier to teacher, they believe it is more worthwhile. In terms of primary schools, the teacher is essential in building up scientific literacy among children (Shulman 1987), and therefore as training teachers, it is our responsibility to ensure we educate ourselves in terms of science as much as possible.
In 1998 Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent report claiming that he combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine could be linked to causing colitis and autism amongst children. The media were quick to publish the story and vaccination rates fell rapidly putting children at severe risk. The public instantly believed the findings as Wakefield was seen as a figure to trust resulting in his publishing not being questioned. One flaw with his experiment was that he only used 12 children for the experiment and some of these children had previous underlying medical conditions which were not taken into account before the experiment (he also did not disclose this information to the general public). This is a good example of science illiteracy as members of the public did not evaluate the quality of the science. Many people did not question the findings or see the flaws within the experiments and as a result put their own children’s lives at risk. Perhaps if we were a more science literate nation controversies and scandals like the 1998 MMR vaccine be avoided.
It is important that when teaching science, children are taught about fair testing. Without having a sound knowledge of fair testing children would struggle to do anything else in science. Being scientifically literate means having the ability to use scientific knowledge, and so in order to learn how to use and apply your knowledge you must first understand fair testing. A lot of science work within the classroom is practical and involves experiments. Science experiments require fair testing in order for them to provide accurate results, and so if children are not taught the importance of fair testing then they will not be able to develop their knowledge and understanding of science

References – (Explanation of the concept of scientific literacy)

Written by, Katie Smith, Emma Kilpatrick, Layla Dawson and Sean Mckinnon.

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