Scientific literacy allows citizens to get involved in issues and ideas related to science as a reflective citizen. A scientifically literate person can:
- Recognize, offer and evaluate explanations for a variety of scientific and technological phenomena
- Describe and evaluate scientific research and propose ways to answer questions and solve problems following the scientific method
- Analyze and evaluate data, concepts and arguments in a variety of contexts, reaching appropriate conclusions for the data received
Quality education is the key to achieving literate societies. Unfortunately, scientific literacy is generally very low in most developing countries. Results of the PISA tests, for example, reveal that competencies in mathematics and sciences in developing countries are below the average of the countries evaluated. This has enormous consequences for the communities by negatively impacting their political, economic and social decision-making.
It is very important to open spaces for the general community in developing countries to learn about the practice of science. Many scientific organizations develop training activities that are usually directed at specialized audiences. For this reason, it is important to highlight the task of scientific associations that are concerned with bringing science to the general community such as the American Physiological Society through events such as PhUn week. In the particular case of Colombia, the Colombian Association for the Advancement of Science (ACAC) organizes every two years a very large science fair “Expociencia” that is visited by more than 40,000 elementary, middle and high school students.
These science fairs have several objectives:
- Allow students to present the results of scientific projects. Students are exposed to an essential component of science, sharing and communicating research. In addition, they have the opportunity to learn from their peers and receive feedback from more experienced researchers.
- Open the doors of academic, governmental or industry laboratories to the community. Visitors have the opportunity to know what scientists do, interact with them, expose their visions about science. In addition, visitors can express doubts they have about different concepts, and sometimes they can find answers to their questions.
- Generate academic spaces so that researchers can discuss how to work with the community, address their most pressing needs and communicate their results to the public.
Recently with the support of the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidad de los Andes, I had the opportunity to participate in Expociencia. It was gratifying to see how the children ran from one side to the other having the opportunity to learn about electronics, physics, programming, biology, medicine and anthropology. These children are like sponges that quickly absorb the information they receive and are willing to ask questions without filtering them through mechanisms that adults have learned. In addition, Expociencia promotes spaces for university students to share their experiences and for a moment to be role models for school students. I believe that many lives are changed thanks to the experience of living science.
In the nineteenth century lived a poet who wrote and translated from other languages several of the best-known stories that are known by children and adults in Colombia. His influence on Colombian literature is similar to that of the Grimm brothers in Europe. The name of this writer was Rafael Pombo. A few weeks ago, thanks to my son, I had the opportunity to learn that he also wrote about the importance of knowledge and science. On this occasion I want to share a personal translation of one of Rafael Pombo´s poems, that can be used to discuss with small children and adults the importance of science in our lives.
THE CHILD AND THE OX
Rafael Pombo (1833-1912)
-What do you think about all day
Lying on the grass?
You seem to me a great doctor
Enraptured in his science.
-The science, dear child
It is not what feeds me;
That is the fruit of study,
With what God gives humans.
Out thinking for me,
Poor animal, hard enterprise;
I prefer to make thirty furrows
Before learning two letters.
Chewing well, I care more
that a lesson at school.
With the teeth, I chew,
You, child, with your head.
But if you want to be wise
Hopefully seeing me you´ll learn
To ruminate, and ruminate a lot,
Every bit of science.
Digesting, not eating,
It is what the body takes advantage of,
And the soul, invisible body,
has to follow such a rule.
Without ruminating it well, do not swallow
Not a line, not a letter;
The one who learns like a parrot,
Ignorant parrot stays.
- National Academies of Sciences, E., and Medicine., Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequence. 2016.
- OECD. Results by Country. [cited 2018 November 4th]; Available from: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/.
- Ciencia, A.C.p.e.A.d.l. Expociencia 2018. 2018 [cited 2018 October 31st]; Available from: https://expociencia.co/home/.