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Scientific literacy on the rise

Zhang Zhihao
Updated: Sep 19,2018 10:03 AM     China Daily

The Chinese population is becoming more scientifically literate, with more people from less developed regions able to understand and use science to solve issues in life and at work, officials said on Sept 18.

About 8.5 percent of China’s population is now considered scientifically literate, a 2.3 percentage point increase in the last three years, according to the 10th national survey on scientific literacy by the China Research Institute of Science Popularization.

The results of the survey were published on Sept 18 during the three-day World Conference on Science Literacy in Beijing, which began on Sept 17.

Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin are ranked as the top three cities, with the ratio of residents who are scientifically literate scoring 21.9, 21.5 and 14.1 percent respectively, the latest survey found.

Scientific literacy has been improving across China. The eastern parts of the country have the highest ratio of scientific literacy, reaching 10.8 percent in 2018, a 2.8-point increase over 2015.

The relatively less-developed central and western parts of the country are also catching up. Central regions grew from 5.5 percent in 2015 to 8 percent in 2018. The western regions grew from 4.3 percent in 2015 to 6.5 percent in 2018.

Seven provinces — Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Shandong, Fujian, Hubei and Liaoning — surpassed the national average.

The 10th national survey, conducted from April to June, involved more than 60,000 people aged 18 to 69 across all 31 provincial-level regions of the Chinese mainland, said Chen Gang, executive secretary of the China Association for Science and Technology.

The survey evaluated the respondents’ understanding of scientific principles, sought their opinions on key science issues and assessed their ability to use science to make decisions and solve problems, he said.

Gauhar Raza, former chief scientist at India’s National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, said China has made remarkable achievements in promoting scientific literacy — an effort that gained momentum about two decades ago.

The Chinese government has been “consistent in its commitment” to the support of scientific literacy through policies and the legal framework, he said.

In 2002, China created laws dedicated to promoting scientific literacy. Four years later, the State Council issued a document aimed at improving Chinese citizens’ scientific literacy for the next 15 years, cementing the popularization of science as a national policy.

The document said China would aim to have 10 percent of its population become scientifically literate by 2020. However, experts said there are still substantial gaps between China and developed countries.

The inequality in scientific literacy between China’s urban and rural population, male and female demographics, and the unbalanced access to quality education, are still major obstacles that need to be overcome to transform China into an innovation-oriented country, they added.

Shanghai and Beijing’s ratios of scientifically literate population, while among the highest in China in 2018, are still behind the 24.5 percent scientific literacy rate that the United States had in 2004.

A survey by EKOS Research Associates in 2013 found that Canada ranked first in scientific literacy, with 42 percent of Canadians able to read and understand newspaper articles detailing scientific findings.

The survey also found 11.1 percent of Chinese males are scientifically literate, while 6.2 percent of females are. Urban populations are also much more scientifically literate than rural residents, 11.6 percent to 5 percent.

“China and India both have enormous populations, and government and media need to realize that we cannot turn everyone into a scientist,” said Raza. Instead, science education should aim to make citizens “science-tempered,” granting them the vision and knowledge to help build a scientific civilization, he said.

Ren Dingcheng, former executive dean of the School of Humanities at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the key to improving scientific literacy in China is to improve science curricula across all ages and have capable teachers.

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