The Importance of Science Literacy



This section is adapted from “Science literacy: concepts, contexts, and consequences” published by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (Committee on Science Literacy and Public Perception of Science et al., 2016) with our additional opinions and experience.


The term “science literacy” is defined in various ways and its meaning has been evolving. However, there are seven aspects of science literacy commonly shared in numerous definitions. The list includes:


  1. Foundational literacies: Numeracy, textual literacy, visual literacy, and understand of graphs and charts

  2. Content knowledge: Understanding a set of scientific terms, concepts, and facts, which consist of scientific developments, text book principles in K-12 education, and topics analysed in the news.

  3. Understanding of scientific practices: Understanding how scientists do science

  4. Identifying and judging appropriate scientific expertise: Making judgement about the expertise of scientists, and role and weight of their publicatio

  5. Epistemic knowledge: Understanding of claims made by science are supported by procedures of science, allowing people to explain why we can believe scientific results

  6. Cultural understanding of science: Acknowledging the relationship of science and society, and science and humanity

  7. Dispositions and habits of mind: Curiosity, opened-mindedness and a commitment to evidence


When one can understand and be able to apply these seven aspects in everyday life at his or her appropriate level, he or she can be considered as science literacy. The evaluation of science literacy is not going to be mentioned in this article, reader can research further in the referred document. Instead, we focus on how science literacy is essential to anyone through four rationales: the economic rationale, the personal rationale, the democratic rationale, and the cultural rationale.


  • The economic rationale illustrates the relation between science literacy and economies. The research shows that scientifically and technologically accomplished workforce is necessary to advance economies. Numerous jobs, which are not science or technology related, require scientific knowledge nowadays, like nursing, construction, nutrition, food industry. In Vietnam, we have abundant natural resources, a science literate population will be able to exploit those resource more effectively and sustainably.


  • The personal rationale argues that successfully dealing with many problems in personal lives and communities requires science literacy. We are facing a variety of decisions, like those about physical and mental health, material and energy consumption. If we understand the science behind those things, we will make more reasonable decisions, leading to healthier and richer lives.


  • The democratic rationale centre point is that citizens participate in civic decision making around vital challenges, such as major humanity problem like disease and climate change. Only science literate population is able to prepared for these essential choices.


  • The cultural rationale considers cultural aspect of science literacy. Science plays an important role in culture because it offers great insight about the world. Our view of the world is transformed dramatically compared to the past. For example, the Earth was once considered as a centre of the universe, where day and night is caused by a rotating sun.


This section has reviewed the science literacy, one ultimate goal of science education by defining aspects of science literacy and describing how important science literacy is from different perspectives. Before moving to our greatest goal of promoting science education for primary schoolers, building a solid foundation on understanding science education is indispensable to educators, school leaders, policy makers.

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