My doctoral thesis demonstrates that the scientific literacy enterprise – in all its forms – fails scrutiny. Either we believe our best science students are leaving high school and joining the adult community largely scientifically illiterate, or there is something wrong in our perceptions of (or measurement of) public scientific literacy.
The heart of the problem is well described in the literature. There is no internationally agreed definition of what scientific literacy actually means. Without an agreed definition, the measurement of scientific literacy internationally is a constantly moving target.
The actual practice of science contrasts sharply with the teaching of science in high school. The result is students are surprised by what science does when they are confronted with it, and students in this study indicated that their interaction with real science had caused them to look at science differently from the dull, boring collection of facts they had previously thought.
Ultimately, a paradigm shift in our thinking is required in relation to a definition of scientific literacy and our expectations of both high school students and public audiences. Since the thesis was written this has become increasingly the case with the equivalent of the largest libraries in the world now available via smart phones in our pockets and devices such as smartpads. We’re now living with a school generation that has never known a world without such connectivity and easy access to information. It has become a question of how we process the content – especially science information – as my thesis foreshadows.
My supervisors were Professor Malcolm Walter and Professor Paul Davies.