Lesson 13: Scientific Literacy
Science is frequently perceived to be of great importance because of its links to technology and industry which, from a national perspective, may be areas with high priority for development. Countries wanting to improve their people’s quality of life cannot escape the need to harness their science and technology capability as a way of developing competitiveness. Consequently, science is included as a core element in elementary and secondary levels despite conceptual complexity and high cost of implementation. Another justification for the inclusion of science in high school curricular is that all citizens need to achieve a degree of “scientific literacy” to enable them to participate effectively as citizens in modern societies. It is, therefore, important to be guided by past and present experiences in science education to be able to recognize the turning points for the country’s future which we need to decide now. Studies indicate however, that many of our Filipino learners are not attaining functional literacy, without which they find it too difficult to meet the challenges posed by our rapid changing world.
Scientific literacy is a related concept to issue of cultural and technological literacy (a term used in recognition of the relationship between science and technology in everyday life). Some scientific educators have attempted to define or analyze it. The term ‘scientific literacy’ has been used in the literature for more than four decades (Gullagher and Harsch, 1997) although not always with the same meaning (Bybee, 1997). Benjamin Shen (1983) distinguishes 3 types of scientific literacy: practical, civic, and scientific cultural literacy.
Practical scientific literacy is that kind of scientific and technical knowledge that can be put to use to help solve practical problems. The example given is that of the reduction in the dependence on infant formulae. Also, the use of alternative medicines like herbal plants instead of synthetic ones to prevent the cause of side effects that are harmful to one’s health.
Civic scientific literacy enables the citizens to become more aware of science and science related issues so that he can face these issues with common sense. Shen defines civic scientific literacy as “a level of understanding of scientific terms and constructs sufficient to . . . understand the essence of competing arguments on a given dispute on controversy”. An example common in many countries these days is the growing concern about the environment particularly the pollution of air, water and land. Media have contributed much to such awareness by bringing to public attention the activities of active environmental groups. However such concerns are more vigorous and numerous in developed countries than in developing countries. It is time that citizens of developing countries became more aware and attentive to such matters.
The third form is cultural scientific literacy. People who seek this form of scientific literacy desire to know something about science as a major human achievement. This group would come mostly from the intellectual community, those who watch television programs like Nova, Invention and similar discovery documentaries.
The widely publicized subjects are based on the notion that scientific literacy has 3 components (Hodson) 1. substantive concepts with science
2. the nature of scientific activity
3. role of science in society and culture
Norris and Philips(2003) argue that the term “scientific literacy” has been used to include various components from the following: a.) Knowledge of the substantive content of science and the ability to distinguish from non-science; b.) Understanding science and its applications;
c.) Knowledge of what counts as science;
d.) Independence in learning science;
e.) Ability to think scientifically;