Original publication: March 2019
Authors: Hanna SIAROVA, Dalibor STERNADEL, Eszter SZŐNYI
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2TCc6Uy
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Considering the emerging threats relating to the spread of misinformation and disinformation and the influence of anti-scientific movements, fostering scientific literacy among the population has never been more essential. Scientific literacy can provide tools to navigate and critically address the vast amounts of information exchanged in public debates, foster democratic political processes and ensure sustainable growth.

Building on a review of academic and policy literature, this study aims to enable Members of the European Parliament to form their opinions on the state of scientific literacy in the EU and on potential education policy responses to better prepare scientifically literate citizens

Key findings and recommendations

Conceptualise scientific literacy in curriculum and competence frameworks

Science and Scientific Literacy as an Educational Challenge

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Scientific literacy goes beyond the mere knowledge of scientific content. It should be understood as the ability to engage critically with and make informed decisions about science-related issues. This broader approach to scientific literacy should be coherently integrated in curricula. Critical thinking and active engagement should be emphasised as important learning outcomes along with fundamental literacy, scientific knowledge and competences and a contextual understanding of science. Research highlights the need to integrate various elements of scientific literacy across educational levels and subject areas (such as science, history, geography, citizenship, health, and media education).

Recommendations for EU action

  • The Commission should further support Member States by strengthening the evidence base for national reform and consider setting scientific literacy benchmarks for different levels of education in the context of the next strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training by 2030.
  • The Commission should develop guidelines to support Member States in the implementation of the European Reference Framework of Key Competences for Lifelong Learning and further elaborate on what ‘competence in science’ implies for education policy and practice in relation to the concept of scientific literacy.

Address the threats relating to the spread of misinformation and disinformation

Contemporary European societies are characterised by the vast amounts of information in circulation. The increased influence of, and democratisation in, the access to information and communication technology, the development of artificial intelligence and the growing mistrust towards traditional sources of information have created a favourable context for the spread of misinformation and disinformation on science-related issues. This phenomenon is reinforced by cognitive, social and technological biases relating to the functioning of social media platforms and online search engines. This situation poses major threats to public health, environmental protection, security and social cohesion. Responding to these threats implies strengthening media and scientific literacy in order to equip the general public with the tools to better detect, analyse and expose misinformation and disinformation and improve societal resilience[1].

Recommendations for EU action

  • The Commission should promote educational approaches based on fact-checking and ‘inoculation’ to misinformation and disinformation to develop media and scientific literacy among the general public.
  • The Commission should further disseminate scientific evidence on science-related issues and promote effective tools to detect, analyse and expose misinformation and disinformation.
  • The Commission should promote interdisciplinary research and data collection[2] on the reach and impact of misinformation and disinformation on the general public and on the effectiveness of counter-measures.

Support innovation and lifelong learning in science education

Fostering scientific literacy requires an integrated approach involving investment in, and re-thinking of, both formal and non-formal education. A number of important steps have been taken to promote scientific literacy through education across Europe. However, many education providers do not have the sufficient capacity to innovate and create inclusive and engaging learning environments to foster scientific literacy.

At the same time, the development of scientific literacy is not only a matter of youth development, it should be considered in a lifelong learning perspective, targeting both young and adult learners. Education policymakers need to support public and private initiatives to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking at all ages.

Recommendations for EU action

  • The Commission should encourage participatory research and collaboration projects[3] aimed at the design, piloting and exchange of new teaching practices, and promote policy experimentation to develop scientific literacy among all citizens.
  • The Commission should continue supporting and updating online databases of evidence-based good practices in education and training[4] to document effective approaches to teaching and learning scientific literacy.

Develop adequate instruments for assessing scientific literacy

Measuring scientific literacy comprehensively proves to be a challenge. Existing tools are often focused on students’ level of scientific knowledge and competences, leaving aside such elements as critical thinking and active engagement. The development of comprehensive assessment instruments could allow grasping scientific literacy more holistically and better understanding what educational approaches can help develop it.

Recommendations for EU action

  • The Commission should use its funding programmes[5] to promote projects exploring and designing appropriate assessment instruments to better measure scientific literacy.
  • The Commission should support the integration of an assessment of students’ critical thinking and civic engagement skills into the OECD’s PISA scientific literacy framework.
  • The Commission should use Eurobarometer surveys to investigate the motivations and reactions of various groups on science-related social and policy issues and analyse the factors that shape scientific literacy.

Build teachers’ capacity to foster scientific literacy

Professional development opportunities for teachers need to better reflect the competences they require to develop scientifically literate students. National education systems should also develop schools’ capacity to promote a collaborative learning culture that motivates teachers and builds their competences to adapt to the changing needs of learners and society.

Recommendations for EU action

  • The Commission should promote professional development opportunities fostering innovative science teaching methods and cross-curricular approaches to science[6].
  • The Commission should consider developing a detailed scientific literacy competence framework for educators[7] which would support teacher education providers to improve existing training programmes.

Promote participatory research and open science

Designing effective education programmes to foster scientific literacy is a crucial step, but it is not sufficient. The promotion of open science can improve public access to scientific information and engage scientists into the public debate.

Recommendations for EU action

  • The Commission should invest further in participative research projects to bring science closer to the public. Scientists should be incentivised to take a more active part in science-related public debates to combat the influence of misinformation and pseudo-science.
  • The Commission should support the development of science consultation platforms[8] to ensure that robust and reliable scientific advice and evidence is rapidly available to the general public, journalists and policymakers.
  • The EU Science Hub (Joint Research Centre, JRC[9]) should be further used for hosting science-related events between scientists, policymakers and the general public to promote evidence-based decisions and an informed democratic dialogue on various policy issues.

[1]     In line with the priorities of the Action Plan against Disinformation. See: European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Action Plan against Disinformation. Brussels, 5.12.2018, JOIN(2018) 36 final.
[2]     For example, via the Erasmus+, Connecting Europe Facility and Horizon Europe programmes, and via Eurobarometer surveys.
[3]     Via Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe.
[4]     Such as the School Education Gateway. See: https://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/en/pub/index.htm.
[5]     Such as Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe.
[6]     Such as the School Education Gateway’s ‘Teacher Academy’. See: https://www.schooleducationgateway.eu/en/pub/teacher_academy.htm.
[7]     Such as the Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu). See: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcompedu.
[8]     Such as SciLine. See: https://www.sciline.org/.
[9]     See: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/629-188

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Study presentation: Science and scientific literacy as an educational challenge – Research4Committees · March 20, 2019 at 10:05 am

[…] Further reading: Research for CULT Committee: Science and Scientific Literacy as an Educational Challenge […]

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