SCIENTIFIC LITERACY versus SCIENTIFIC AWARENESS


prof vijay singhPublished with kind permission of Prof. VIJAY A. SINGH


In an editorial in the Bulletin of the Indian Association of Physics Teachers (August 1998 and September 1999) Prof. Vijay Singh had raised the following question:what constitutes scienti c literacy? Further, given the explosive, exponential growth in scienti c knowledge, is it realistic to expect a general citizen to be scienti cally literate? Can we agree on a minimum body of scienti c knowledge which an average citizen ought to master so that he or she can participate in a meaningful way in a participatory democracy such as ours?

These questions have rasied debates in technologically advanced nations. In 1989, the U.S. government proposed an agenda to make their students rst in the world in science and mathematics by the year 2000. Their failure in this respect is recognized and accepted by U.S. educationists themselves. At the International Physics Olympiad held last year in Iceland, the U.S. students performance could be rated below that of China, Iran, and India. Participating for the rst time, India stood (unocially) tenth in the medals tally. China’s performance was the best. Let me hasten to add that this by no means implies that scienti c literacy is high in our nation.

An alternative proposal has been mooted by some people. Instead of focusing on scienti c literacy, they suggest that we discuss scienti c awareness. To quote Keith Devlin: Scienti c awareness means that \all adults should base their opinions on fact and observable evidence, rather than on on prejudice or assumptions; be willing to change their opinions based on new evidence; understand cause-and-e ect relationships; and understand how science is done { in particular, the role played by observation and experiment in establishing scienti c conclusion, and know what the term `scienti c theory’ and `scienti c fact’ mean”. These goals are certainly to be applauded but the question is how to incorporate it into our educational system. Given the lamentable state of our school laboratories we are very, very far from achieving these goals.

A very large fraction of our population can not distinguish between scienti c knowledge and superstition, In fact, in a crisis, we prefer the latter, So instead of trying to achieve the lofty goals of scienti c awareness, we decide on a minimum body of scienti c knowledge with which our populace should be equipped. In a subsequent editorial, I promise to make concrete suggestions in this regard.

Dated:2015                            Signature Prof. Vijay A. Singh
                                      Raja Ramana Fellow
                                      National Coordinator, Science Olympiads (2003-2014)
                                      Nationa Coordinator, National Initiative on
                                      Undergraduate Sciece (2004 - 2012)