Importance of scientific literacy


In recent time, Teachers are responsive to the need arising that there is more to teaching than delivering a syllabus. Judgments are being made as a result of this by teachers about what questions to ask and who should answer them in class, about when to get involved in discussions, when to stir on or slow down, and also on when and how to encourage and reprimand. These questions are various and the list could go on and on. Teachers are also aware of the differences in classes with each class developing its own unique learning environment. Therefore when teachers teach two classes in the same year level with the same course, the class needs varies as a result of their differences

Learning environment develops out of the relationships that exist between the teacher and the students. In given time norms of conduct are established, both on the part of the teacher as well as by the students, as values and expectations on both sides become clear. A behavioral pattern results from this based on the knowledge that students have of their teacher and vice versa. Thus resulting in a learning environment which may either be a very encouraging one where students enjoy their work and feel respected or be discouraging if the work ethos and satisfactory relationships are absent.

According to a Research into classroom learning environments by Fraser1994,and Wubbels & Levy, 1993 which is based upon students' perceptions of their learning environment it is established that students' learning behavior in class will be largely determined by the way in which they perceive their learning environment. This can be further substantiated, by another study carried out by Brekelmans, Wubbels & Creton, 1990 which also indicate that students' perceptions of their teacher's interpersonal behavior accounted for more variance in student outcomes than did the introduction of a new physics curriculum. Also, Brekelmans, Wubbels & Levy, 1993 also illustrated that students' perceptions of their teacher's interpersonal behavior accounted for variance of a full assessment grade (e.g. A, B, C etc.).


The conceptual framework of this research is aimed towards defining the ideal picture of quality in science teaching and learning, to find out the actual picture of what is happening in schools, and lastly, to develop effective recommendations to move towards closing the gap between the actual and ideal.

Goodlum Hackling and Rennie 2000, made significant effort in identifying the actual and ideal picture therefore they carried out a study that was set in both national and international contexts, especially in regard to science curriculum experiences in the United States and the United Kingdom, and to collect a wide range of qualitative and quantitative data from major Australian stakeholders, including teachers, students, scientists and members of the community. In this way, the study builds on previous national and international studies, as well as students and teachers perceptions of the teaching and learning of science in Australian schools.

The ideal and actual picture is thus described by Goodlum hackling and Rennie (2000) in the following themes:


  1. The science curriculum is relevant to the needs, concerns and personal experiences of students.
  2. Teaching and learning of science is centered on inquiry. Students investigate, construct and test ideas and explanations about the natural world.
  3. Assessment serves the purpose of learning and is consistent with and complementary to good teaching.
  4. The teaching-learning environment is characterized by enjoyment, fulfillment, ownership of and engagement in learning, and mutual respect between the teacher and students.
  5. Teachers are life-long learners who are supported, nurtured and resourced to Build the understandings and competencies required of contemporary best Practice.
  6. Teachers of science have a recognized career path based on sound professional Standards endorsed by the profession.
  7. Excellent facilities, equipment and resources support teaching and learning.
  8. Class sizes make it possible to employ a range of teaching strategies and provide Opportunities for the teacher to get to know each child as a learner and give Feedback to individuals.
  9. Science and science education are valued by the community, have high priority the school curriculum, and science teaching is perceived as exciting and valuable, Contributing significantly to the development of persons and to the economic and social well-being of the nation.

Actual Picture

The actual picture of science teaching and learning is one of great unevenness but, on Average, the picture is poor. Goodlum hackling and Rennie(2000),explained that curriculum statements generally?? provide a framework for a science curriculum focused on developing scientific literacy and helping students progress toward achieving the stated outcomes, the actual curriculum implemented in most schools is different from the intended curriculum.

In some cases some primary schools do not teach science at all therefore students lack the scientific background and where it is taught on a regular basis, all activities are centered towards the student , ensuing a high level of student satisfaction therefore creating a room to embrace science . Many of the students on getting to the high school feel greatly disappointed, because the science they are taught is neither significant nor appealing and does not seem relevant with their interests and experiences. The new learning environment characterized with the Traditional chalk-and-talk Teaching process, copying of notes, and practical lessons which the students are now experiencing gives little challenge and no room for excitement.

Many of the science teachers feel undervalue, with no adequate resource and overloaded with n on teaching duties The education systems are now moving towards achieving the ideal picture whereas some of the teachers are opting out of teaching career.



Science is an element of the human search for understanding and wisdom and reflects human curiosity about the world. Obtaining an insight to what scientific literacy is, will ensure that we acknowledge its importance as it is fundamental to quality teaching and learning in science.

Scientific literacy is defined clearly in the NSES (NSC, 1996). Briefly, it is ?the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity? (p.22).

Scientific literacy has a wide meaning from allowing a person to ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences.- the ability of a person to describe, explain, and predict natural Phenomenon. .Therefore allowing Individuals to display their scientific literacy in different ways, such as using technical terms in the appropriate ways, or in scientific concepts applications and processes. Also creating the avenue for individuals to often have differences in literacy in different domains, such as more understanding of life-science concepts and words, and less understanding of physical-science concepts and words.

Scientific literacy has diverse forms and degrees which lasts over a lifetime, it widens and deepens, and not limited to years in school. But It therefore follow on the attitudes and Values that has been established toward science during the early years and then shape a person?s growth of scientific literacy as an adult.

Layton et al. (1994) grouped science and technology together, revealing the way that the two are commonly spoken or written about in analysis of scientific literacy. The link between science and technology is disputable, this explains the reason they are separated in some school curricula or placed together at different education level in the National Curriculum. While some aspects of technology, and its definition when perceived in terms of making or designing, might be distinguished from science, there lies the fact that science cannot be split up from technology and up to this time will remain significant to the world of students and the wider human race.

Jenkins (1992) makes a case that science has changed in the latter parts of the 20th century in that it has become more commercialized and industrialized and more integrated with technology.

Although a the future citizens students ?should know something of the great intellectual achievements of science?their lives will be affected more directly, personally and, sometimes, adversely, by the ways in which scientific knowledge is deployed through a range of technologies ranging from medicine, transport and communication to employment, design and manufacturing? . According to Jenkins, it is arguable ?that the science to be taught in schools should be relocated within these contexts, rather than, as at present, be concerned with the grammar and syntax of the scientific disciplines? .

Teaching and Learning in Science

A social constructivist perspective is the predominant view of learning in science. Driver, Asoko, Leach, Mortimer, & Scott, 1994 wrote that fundamentally this means that learners construct their own knowledge and understandings based on what they already know and the socio-cultural context in which they find themselves.

Learning is an effective procedure in which learners adopt making sense of their understandings about the world. However this is required of everyone so as to be able to function in the world around them. Learning either in science classrooms or any environment, from any source occurs in similar ways. Learners build knowledge and ideas in science which logical to them by linking the new information acquired to their existing conceptual frameworks. Significantly, the additional information is intergrated into existing mental framework in ways that are meaningful to the learner. Thus, learners? previous knowledge and experiences are important in identifying what their new knowledge and understanding will be like.

Accountability of how students learn can be measured through Effective teaching. In another sense, good teachers know a great deal more than the subject matter they teach.

Darling Hammond (1997) points out that Research confirms that teacher knowledge of subject matter, student learning and development, and teaching methods are all important elements of teacher effectiveness. The recent reviews of more than two hundred studies contradict the long time established myths which indicates that anyone can take up teaching and that so called teachers are born and not made. Because learners and contexts differ, there is no single best approach for teaching of science. Instead, in achieving effective learning in science various approaches are needed to make a specific aspect of science available to each specific group of learners. Clearly, substantial reflection and understanding is essential on the part of the science teacher although this requires time and experience but its possession should not be undervalued. Shulman (1986) explained pedagogical content knowledge to be a quality which involves careful planning in amalgamating the knowledge of the subject and knowledge of the learner.

Lemke 1990 demonstrated that Teachers must foster the use and development of language skills in science as it is a subject which require the use of language in particular ways when describing scientific concepts. For example, Words such as energy and work have specific meanings in science that are fairly different to everyday meanings. .Student also need to be capable of using appropriate language in conveying and clarifying their thinking and to communicate their understanding of science concepts in a range of forms, including diagrams, tables, words, graphs and symbols.


A sample of 490 students in 23 Year 9 mathematics classes in Adelaide, South Australia, was surveyed. Year 9 students were chosen in this survey considering that they are of the age where the teacher plays a crucial role in their classroom. During the year 8, which is the first year of the secondary school, there is a building block of newness and freshness about schooling, whilst in senior years students often have a motivational factor about their future employment or tertiary study. Also, Year 9 generally contains common mathematics across the year group, which eliminates the divisions of business and applied mathematics present in some Year 10 cohorts. Year 9 also is known to be a complex year for students, and as a result one where the teacher has an central role in the founding of an proper classroom learning environment.

Two instruments were used to obtain the data from students.

  1. A modification of What is Happening in this Classroom? (WHIC) was used to determine the perceptions of students about their classroom learning environment
  2. The Questionnaire on Teacher Interaction (QTI) was used to determine students' perceptions of their teacher's interpersonal behavior in the classroom. A selection of students also were interviewed to provide qualitative data to help explain and amplify the findings of the instruments.

The version of the WHICH instument used in this study has been recently developed for measuring students' perceptions of their classroom learning environment. The instrument contains 64 statements, measuring students' perceptions based on eight scales. These 8 scales measure students' perceptions of the amount of (1) Student Cohesion, (2)Teacher Support,(3) Involvement/Negotiation(4), Investigation,(5) Cooperation,(6) Task Orientation, (7)Equity, and(8) Emphasis on Understanding in the classroom.

An example of the statements in the instrument based on teacher support that the students were asked to answer was (a)The teacher takes a personal interest in students, and (b) "The teacher considers students' feelings?. Given the following option for them to choose 'Almost Never Happens', 'Seldom Happens', 'Sometimes Happens', 'Often Happens' or 'Almost Always Happens'. To determine the situation going on in the classrooms. After which Students? perceptions of their classroom learning environments are then profiled according to the class item mean score for each scale

The instrument which was developed in two forms consist of a Personal form and a Class form , both of which are identical but the emphasis in the Personal form is based on student's perceptions of his or her personal interaction with the classroom environment while, on the Class form each item focuses on students' perceptions of the class's interactions with the classroom environment. For example on the Personal form the first two items are, "I make friendships among students in this class" and "I get to know other students in this class well". These items have a personal focus. The same items in the Class form have a class focus: "Friendships are made among students in this class"; and "Students in this class get to know each other well".The instrument has been shown to be reliable, with acceptable discriminant validity and to satisfactorily discriminate between classes. These data have been reported elsewhere (Fraser, Fisher & McRobbie, 1996; Rawnsley & Fisher, 1997a

The second instrument used in the survey was the Questionnaire on Teacher Interaction (QTI). This is a 48-item instrument which measures students' perceptions of their teacher's interpersonal behavior in the classroom. It is based on the Leary (1957) model of interpersonal behavior and measures students' perceptions of the degree of dominance/submission and cooperation/opposition in the teacher's behavior in the classroom.

Brekelmans, Wubbels & Creton, 1990 attest to Its reliability and validity and it has been well documented for studies in The Netherlands.

Interpersonal behavior by the teacher scores highly on the Leadership scale and this is primarily the dominant behavior in the classroom. Wubbles,Creton,Levy &Hooymayers,1993 explained that with a second characteristic of cooperation , that such teacher will "notice what's happening, lead, organize, set tasks, determine procedures, structure the classroom situation, explain, hold attention".

The Table below shows the primary and secondary characteristics and sample items from each of the eight dimensions of the QTI. When the class is surveyed, the class item mean for each dimension can then be mapped to show the profile of students' perceptions of their teacher's interpersonal behavior in the classroom.


Associations Between Student Perceptions of their Classroom Learning Environment, Using the WHIC, and Student Outcomes

The result obtained showed that the correlation is high between the represented behaviour in the scales of the WHIC and students' attitude towards their learning of mathematics. The high correlation was evident on both the Personal form and the Class form of the WHIC. The most positive attitudes towards mathematics learning were found in classes where students perceived a class sense of student cohesion and equitable treatment of students, and where students were involved in investigative work, and oriented clearly on their task. The small, but significant negative correlation with the Cooperation scale suggests that at the Year 9 level a small amount of competition may be valued by students more than an emphasis on cooperation. Higher cognitive achievements were found in classes where there was a strong emphasis on students understanding their work, but only a minimal amount of investigative activity. This study confirms the findings of Fraser, Fisher & McRobbie (1996) who commented that the Personal form is able to show student perceptions of their personal relationship to the classroom environment variables, rather than their perceptions of the class's relationship. However, the Personal form of the WHIC had less predictive validity in this study with regard to student outcomes than did the Class form.

Associations Between Student Perceptions of their Teacher's Interpersonal Behaviour, Using the QTI, and Student Outcomes

The QTI examines the interpersonal behaviour between teachers and students, as perceived by students. This study is the first to administer the QTI to an Australian sample of mathematics students and to report on the associations between student perceptions of the teacher-student interpersonal relationship and student outcomes.

Attitudinal Outcomes

Data from the study are summarized in Table 4. The simple correlations show that each of the scales correlate significantly with the attitudinal outcome, which is over 100 times more than would be expected purely by chance, whilst the standardized regression coefficient showed that the scales of Leadership, Helping/Friendly and Admonishing behaviour significantly correlated when the effect of the other scales was held constant (p < 0.01, over 37 times that expected by chance alone). The multiple correlation (R) was significant at the 0.05 level and the scales together accounted for 28% of the variance in attitude.

The scales of Leadership, Helping/Friendly, Understanding and Student Responsibility/Freedom each had positive correlations with students' attitudes towards the mathematics class. Conversely the remaining four scales of Uncertain, Dissatisfied, Admonishing and Strict interpersonal behaviour each had negative correlations. This is consistent with the findings reported with students in The Netherlands and the USA (Brekelmans, Levy and Rodriguez, 1993; Wubbels, Brekelmans & Hooymayers, 1991). These previous studies indicated that when students perceive strong behaviour typified by the behaviour on the right of the vertical axis in the circumflex model, i.e. in the cooperative part of the Proximity axis, there is a high correlation with development of positive attitudes. Strong behaviour on the left of the vertical axis was shown to have a negative correlation with the development of positive attitudes.

Associations Between QTI Scales and Students' Attitudinal and Cognitive Outcomes in Terms of Simple Correlation (r) and Standardized Regression Coefficient (?)

The scales which correlate most strongly with the attitudinal outcomes in this study were Leadership, Helping/Friendly and Understanding. The first two of these were also significantly correlated using the standardized regression coefficient, as was the Admonishing scale. This means that 11 out of a possible 16 correlations between the QTI scales and students' attitudes towards their mathematics were significant (p < 0.05). This is over 13 times that which would occur by chance alone.

In classes where students view their teacher as mostly showing high levels of Leadership, Helping/Friendly, and Understanding behaviour, and give high levels of Student Responsibility and Freedom, students have much healthier attitudes towards their class and enjoy their lessons more than in classes when the other side of teacher behaviour is common. Where teachers show high levels of Strict, Admonishing, Dissatisfied and Uncertain behaviour, students do not enjoy their classes as much and develop more negative attitudes towards the subject.

This is illustrated in Figure 2 which shows the profiles of the teachers in the two classes which scored the lowest (left) and the highest (right) scores on an attitude test towards mathematics classes. In the class on the right, which scored the highest score of the 23 classes on an attitude scale towards their mathematics classes, students saw considerably more Leadership, Helping/Friendly and Understanding behaviour from their teacher, and comparatively more behaviour which gave Student Responsibility and Freedom in the classroom. On the other hand, the class whose teacher is portrayed in the profile on the left saw considerably less of these behaviours and considerably more Strict, Admonishing and dissatisfied behaviour or it may be the other way around.

Figure 3. Profiles of the teachers in the classes which scored the lowest (left) and the highest (right) scores in a mathematics class attitude test.

When considered together the QTI scales explained 10% of the variance in students' cognitive outcomes and the multiple correlation (R) was 0.31, significant to the 0.01 level.

Figure 4. Profiles of the teachers in the classes which scored the lowest (left) and the highest (right) scores in two tests of Year 9 mathematics.

Figure 3 shows the profiles of two teachers with varying academic results. The teacher portrayed in the left profile (whose class scored the lowest academic results), shows considerably less Strict behaviour, less Leadership, Helping/Friendly or Understanding behaviour and more Admonishing, Dissatisfied and Uncertain behaviour and is perceived as giving comparatively more Student Responsibility and Freedom. This class lamented their teacher's lack of leadership and cooperative behaviour and students commented;

He puts a sum on the board that we can't do. He rushes through it. He starts and doesn't stop. He rushes through it. He just tells us the answer. He doesn't tell us how to get it. He sees you can't do a sum, then explains it and says, 'alright', and then walks off.

The high levels of Admonishing and Dissatisfied behaviour also attracted comment.

Like in class, there's a boy named Joe who just walked past (on his way to the 'time out' room). There's a few boys who can joke with the teacher and, like, he doesn't mind. But if someone else jokes, that he gets annoyed with, like Joe, he jumps down their throat...He lets Sam get away with it but he just yells at Joe...He could be joking one minute, then if someone else does something, he'll just go Schlitz.

The opposite student perceptions are evident in the right hand profile which represents the perceptions of students in the class which scored the highest academic results of the 23 classes. Here students commented more favourably about their teacher's Helpful/Friendly and Understanding behaviour.

When someone goes really bad in a test he gets them to come out the front and he talks to them about it...just quietly.

We just have to walk up the front and he'll explain something to us. If it's something really difficult he'll explain it to the whole class.

If a couple of people go up and ask him the same question, he'll do it on the board.

Students also recognized and respected the overall leadership shown by the teacher, even in his digressions and attempts to keep them interested.

Some of the time he just gets up there and does really pointless things, tells stories and stuff. He tells stuff that aren't even relevant to the chapter or the work you're doing...He's way more advanced than we are. He says stuff like, he said that these Martians landed, and the orbits of the planets, and the radius and stuff. It's impossible to work out. He gets off the track.

(Would you prefer that he didn't?)

No, he makes it really funny.

(What's he wanting you to learn from that?)

What we learn in separate chapters, to put them all together, problem solving, working through the steps.

It is also interesting to note that girls see their teacher's behaviour much more positively than do boys. In the study in mathematics classrooms mentioned earlier (Rawnsley & Fisher, 1997b), girls from coeducational classes perceived statistically significantly more Helping/Friendly and Understanding behaviour whilst boys perceived more Uncertain, Dissatisfied, Admonishing and Strict behaviours. Boys see more of the behaviours in their teachers which are associated with negative attitudes towards the subject and poorer results. Girls perceive more of the behaviours which are associated with more positive outcomes.

Summary of Associations Between the QTI and Student Outcomes

Consequently, the use of the QTI in this study replicated previous findings, showing a strong correlation between students' perceptions of their teacher's interpersonal behaviour and their attitudes towards the mathematics class. The correlations with students' cognitive outcomes were not as strong, with the two significant correlations replicating previous findings. As in previous research the Student Responsibility/Freedom scale correlated positively with the development of positive attitudes, but negatively with students' cognitive outcomes.

This study confirms the importance of interpersonal behaviour which shows strong leadership, coupled with helpful, friendly and understanding behaviour, and shows that this is also relevant within the context of the secondary mathematics classroom


There is widespread agreement that scientific literacy is a high priority for all citizens, helping them to be interested in and understand the world around them, to engage in the discourses of and about science, to be sceptical and questioning of claims made by others about scientific matters, to be able to identify questions and draw evidence based conclusions, and to make informed decisions about the environment and their own health and well-being.

Osborne and Collins? (2000) assertion that a vital component of any science course is to allow exploration of aspects of contemporary science?such an element is essential to providing a connecting thread between school science and the ?real? world of adults, endowing the subject with a relevance that no other mechanism can. Whilst pupils will accept a curriculum diet which consists largely of the received wisdom of uncontested and pre established knowledge, contemporary science offers a glimpse into the world of here and now, not the world of yesteryear. This is a world of science-in-the-making, of future possibility and uncertainty where their views can


Teacher change is the basis of educational innovation, reform and improvement. The research findings presented in this report emphasize repeatedly that the most important factor in improving learning is the teacher. Efforts to close the gap must focus on helping teachers recognize the gap between students? real needs in science and what is offered in the actual curriculum Changes to teachers? professional practice involve significant shifts in beliefs and professional knowledge, and consequently, take considerable time, resources and effort. A teaching style that emphasizes an inquiry-oriented, student-centred, outcomes-focused approach requires more sophisticated teaching skills than those associated with traditional didactic methods Teachers working alone in their classroom can make small steps towards change. Teachers working together can make larger strides. Schools collaborating make a greater impact still. But quality science education curriculum and professional development resources are very expensive and require the very best expertise to develop. Collaborative ventures that pool the financial and human resources from a number of jurisdictions have the potential to produce the world-class materials that are required for a contemporary, relevant and engaging science education for all students.

In Conclusion

Improving the scientific literacy of students is the main purpose of school science education. Scientifically literate persons are interested in and understand the world around them, are sceptical and questioning of claims made by others about scientific matters, participate in the discourses of and about science, identify questions and draw evidence-based conclusions, and make informed decisions about the environment and their own health and well-being. Such persons will be able to contribute to both the social and economic well-being of Australia.

Australian educational jurisdictions have developed modern and progressive curriculum frameworks for school science, however, there is a considerable gap between the ideal or intended curriculum and the actual or implemented curriculum. There is great variability between schools in the quality of science education. In primary schools, where science is taught, it is generally student-centred, activity-based and stimulates the curiosity of students. In the compulsory years of secondary schooling, most students find science unrelated to their interests or concerns, and in many schools science does not develop the learning outcomes that contribute to scientific literacy. The set of carefully articulated recommendations presented in this report provide the Commonwealth and educational jurisdictions with strategies that can be implemented to improve the teaching and learning of science in Australian schools. Enhancing the awareness of all stakeholders of the nature and importance of scientific literacy is the first step. This needs to be followed by building the expertise of the teaching profession through enhanced resourcing of initial teacher education, incentives to attract and retain our best young people in science teaching, and enhanced support for ongoing professional development of practicing teachers within a framework of professional standards. Skilled and knowledgeable teachers need better curriculum resources, facilities and equipment if they are to implement a quality science program. Currently the quality of science teaching and learning is limited by approaches to assessment that are not focused on outcomes that contribute to scientific literacy or on the provision of feedback to teachers and learners so that teaching and learning can be enhanced. A lack of national focus, collaboration and pooling of resources across jurisdictions currently limits the quality of the curriculum and professional development resources that are being developed.

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