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Canadian Science Policy Centre | Panel 214 - The status of science literacy in Canada

Panel 214 - The status of science literacy in Canada

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 7th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

The status of science literacy in Canada

Organized by: The Ontario Science Centre

Speakers: Dr. Eugenia Duodu, CEO, Visions of Science; Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor, Government of Canada; Dr. Molly Shoichet, University Professor and Senior Advisor to the President on Science and Engineering Engagement, University of Toronto; Dr. Maurice Bitran, CEO and Chief Science Officer, Ontario Science Centre.

Moderator: Dr. Maurice Bitran

Takeaways and recommendations

  • Science literacy initiatives are collective efforts, addressing a national challenge that will not be solved by individuals or even particular groups, but instead through broadly shared efforts to define this aspect of our social character.

  • The Ontario Science Centre’s annual survey of Canadian science literacy shows a majority of people want to know more about science and technology, which they regard as necessary to solving many different problems that society faces.

  • The survey also found that about half of respondents believed society is turning away from science and conclusions around major issues such as global warming remain unclear.

  • Such findings suggest that where science literacy is low, people have an inability to assess complex topics that have a scientific foundation.

  • While such surveys may show that Canadians find scientists to be trustworthy, that same level of trust is not extended to the science these individuals represent.

  • This lack of trust may be rooted in the lack of a national culture that would express values associated with science. In contrast, Canada has established a rich and vibrant culture around pursuits such as hockey, which find expression in everything from popular media to images on our banknotes.

Communicating science

  • Engaging an audience in a scientific subject, especially classrooms full of young people, means developing an emotional as well as an intellectual appeal.

  • When communicating science, it is just as necessary to convey what is important to scientists as it is to convey what is important to people outside of scientific circles.

  • Successful scientific communication means building a vocabulary that uses a clear and common language.

  • Extracurricular programs targeted at children with disadvantaged backgrounds can encourage engagement with science, perhaps as a career path or at least by enabling them to take part in life-long exchanges around scientific matters.

  • It is also important to expand science literacy efforts and develop creative ways to engage adults in science education in places where their daily lives take place and in the language they understand. It’s this population that parents the next generation and affects policies through voting.

Science all around us

  • Social and human skills, as well as academic endeavours in the arts and humanities, may seem to be distinct from disciplines of science and technology, yet all of these activities share a fundamental emphasis on methodology.

  • In addition to enticing people to learn about science in formal settings such as classrooms or informal ones such as science centres, advocates of science communication should operate where people lead their daily lives, such as shopping malls or airports.

  • A community-based approach to science literacy would establish collaborations between members of the scientific community and the larger social community to illustrate the role of scientific insights and scientific methods in everyday life.

  • Society should build on this trust to elevate the esteem accorded to careers in science, technology, and education, which are still deemed to be less desirable than traditional practices such as law.

  • Young people from low-income, socially marginalized communities face even more barriers to engaging in science and technology as part of their lives.

  • Early exposure is necessary to creating a life-long appreciation of a subject. Just as we nurture in young students an understanding of music even though they may never become musicians, so too must we nurture a similar understanding of science.