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National Curriculum: compulsory school science – is it improving scientific literacy?

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This paper presents the initial findings of a long-term study to examine whether the introduction of compulsory school science for pupils in UK schools in 1991 is effective in raising the general level of scientific literacy. The use of the term 'scientific literacy' in the literature is considered and a definition of the term as it is applied in this study is offered. The scientific literacy level of two groups of initial teacher training studentswith contrasting experiences of school sciencewas compared. Students completed a simple science test that had been originally written for 11-year-old children. The average test score of students who had experienced compulsory school science from the ages of 11 to 16 was found to be significantly higher (p = 0.014) than that of students for whom school science was optional at secondary level. The study also highlights specific areas of conceptual difficulty in basic science experienced by almost all of the students tested. Test questions relating to the circulatory system, light and sound produced very low scores from almost all students, regardless of their science background. The paper considers the implications of these findings for science teachers and policymakers in both the primary and secondary sectors.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-06-01

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