An understanding of science and the skills developed through the subject are becoming increasingly more acknowledged within Primary schools. Rutledge (2010) states; “children will not be able to connect up with their own ideas without skills such as predicting, and they will not be able to challenge their ideas without skills such as looking for patterns in results”. This links well into the importance of scientific literacy as it exhibits that children can develop skills that are learned within science, which can be transferable across the curriculum such as measuring, predicting and evaluating.
Scientific Literacy falls into four stages; Nominal, Functional, Conceptual and Multidimensional. This starts with recognition of a scientific term such as mass, following up to a full understanding of the term and applying it to their own lives and linking it into areas, such as history or a wider setting.
If there is a misinterpretation within scientific literacy and a person does not have the knowledge and skills to understand the science within conducting experiments; this could lead to false scientific conclusions being made. An example of when a lack of scientific literacy has led to false media representation is the MMR vaccine scare. The MMR vaccine protects against three illness, those of which are; measles, mumps and rubella. Dr Andrew Wakefield publicised that he believed this vaccine has links to autism and bowel disorders which resulted in vaccine rates of the MMR to decrease dramatically due to a fear within the public. It took over five years for this scare to finally be ruled out due to the high amount of allocations made by witnesses. It was said by the General Medical Council that Dr Andrew Wakefield “abused his position of trust” by conducting tests in which were unnecessary without the appropriate qualifications or ethical consent. Due to a failure of disclosure of questions that conflicted his argument the original paper that published this scare removed the article and his allegations were deemed as false (NHS Choices, 2010).
One of the key issues which must be enforced throughout science education in primary school is the importance of scientific literacy. As described by the OECD (2013, p9), academic literacy is the ability to use scientific fact and draw an accurate conclusion based on such knowledge. The importance of encouraging academic literacy from the earliest years of education cannot be underestimated. When teaching science from the earliest stage, academic literacy must become part of a routine. This will therefore allow accurate findings to be made which can support an individual’s research. As future educators, we must allow children to explore the ways of carrying out research responsibly throughout their time at school. Children must be motivated to work from a Nominal level (where by pupil recognises scientific vocabulary and concepts but their understanding is vague) – up to a Multidimensional Level of Scientific literacy (whereby the pupils can use scientific concepts and vocabulary in relation to other curriculum areas) (Holbrook & Rannikmae, p279). In order to understand how easy, it is to alter a substantial amount of results from the click of a button, children must see the damage inaccuracy can have. This allows them to understand that the implications are not just on an individual level but effect greater society. From a societal point of view, inaccuracy can cause extreme conflict between mind and matter. As a result, people most commonly suffer from severe mental of physical implications, which can be life changing and threating. Therefore, the importance of enforcing a secure structure of research, from a young age, will mean that in future the integrity of science can be protected.
To conclude, there must be more focus upon scientific literacy within primary schools. This will allow children to explore science and its connections to wider society, making it more relevant to them and their future learning. It will also provide them with the fundamental skills to; predict and challenge their learning and numerous transferable skills, all of which will accommodate their skills within school.
Jess Millar, Kimberly Waddell, Hannah Robertson, Rebecca Potter
Holbrook, J. and Rannikmae, M. (2009). The Nature of Science Education for Enhancing Scientific Literacy. International Journal of Science Education, 4.
Nhs.uk. (2010). Ruling on doctor in MMR scare. https://www.nhs.uk/news/medical-practice/ruling-on-doctor-in-mmr-scare/ (Accessed on: 10th February 2018)
Nhs.uk. (2018). MMR vaccine ‘does not cause autism’. https://www.nhs.uk/news/pregnancy-and-child/mmr-vaccine-does-not-cause-autism/ (Accessed on: 10th February 2018)
Oecd.org. (2015). PISA 2015. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/Draft%20PISA%202015%20Science%20Framework%20.pdf (Accessed on: 8th February 2018)
Rutledge, N. (2010) Primary Science: Teaching the Tricky Bits. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education.