Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 357-359)



Dr Iddon

  357. The Wellcome Trust says "the science curriculum should foster wider scientific literacy . . . for all pupils, regardless of their intention to become future scientists". Many of our witnesses seem to agree that fostering scientific literacy abroad is a good thing. Could one of you or all of you perhaps tell us what would a scientifically literate person need to know?
  (Ms Matterson) I would say from our discussions that there are four points that we would say are about scientific literacy for all. The first is that young people and then future citizens need to be able to be engaged in informed discussion about controversy raised by developments in science and research. Secondly, we would expect them to be able to have the skills to help them evaluate the sources of information where they hear about scientific evidence and research, to be able to have some idea of and think about risk and probability in terms of the science research that they hear about, and finally to have a basic understanding of science and scientific methodology and process. They would be the four elements that we would see as being important for scientific literacy.

  358. Does anyone want to add anything to that?
  (Mr Levinson) I would add that I see that there is a dichotomy almost if you like between learning about science and learning science. I think both of those things are equally important but at the moment there is perhaps more of an emphasis on learning science and learning a huge amount of content than there is about learning about the procedures of science and the sorts of controversies that come from that.

  The Committee suspended from 4.16 pm to 4.26 pm for a division in the House

Dr Iddon

  359. What do you think a key stage 4 course on scientific literacy should consist of and how would it be different from the present courses?
  (Mr Levinson) As a school education based person maybe I will have the first stab at that. It certainly would include some of the major controversies of the day. I can think of recent things like perhaps BSE, MMR, genetic testing, for example, all the aspects of the new science of genetics that is emerging. It would also, I would maintain, include the mainly cultural aspects of science, ie, what are the main aspects of science that have a cultural entity. We would talk about things like evolutionary theory, atomic theory,—


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