The Australian Academy of Science commissioned a report, Science Literacy in Australia Report, into the level of scientific literacy in the community. Only 59% of Australians knew that the Earth takes one year to travel around the sun and knowledge levels had dropped in the three years since the survey was last done.
Another Australian Academy of Science study shows the drop in students studying science. Twenty years ago 94 per cent of year 11 and 12 students were enrolled in science subjects but last year the figure had dropped to 51 per cent.
So why does this matter? A good general community scientific literacy enables people to participate knowledgeably in society. It affects people’s ability to take ownership of their health, manage technology efficiently, and take part in solving global problems such as climate change. A lack of students in the science disciplines is leading to shortages in the skilled scientific and engineering workforces and reduces our ability to be internationally competitive.
There is general agreement that we need to improve our science education from K-12.
ACER’s report Reimagining Science Education suggests teaching science as it is practised in the real world, designing units that teach science outcomes through solving real problems in the community, and having collaboration between schools, industry and community.
Australia’s chief scientist Professor Ian Chubb has called on schools to “teach science in an inspirational way”. "You've got to ensure science is taught like it is practised, so you have people who are turned on by the awesomeness of science and can explain why it is important and relevant in everyday lives,''
In this Australian article Alison Samuel says we need to learn to see the science in everyday life.
One of the problems is that most primary teachers don’t have a science background so lack the background knowledge to do this confidently.
Victoria has headed down the road of Specialist Primary Science and Maths teachers and New South Wales has some fantastic Environmental Education Centres. I see this as a short term measure though because it continues to down skill the generalist primary teachers and reinforces the silo approach of making science a subject you do at a specific time each week or on a school excursion rather than something that is all around you and infuses everything.
However there are a number of initiatives in Australia. There are the long running Streamwatch and Waterwatch programs, where community groups and schools can monitor local creeks and river systems. Some are geographically located like the Great Koala Count, Birds in Schools and Wingtags. Wingtags and Climatewatch both have apps that allow people to report in sightings on their mobile phones.
With Explore the Seafloor you can help report on crown of thorns and kelp distributions around Australia from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Climatewatch can be done anywhere in Australia by identifying reporting on the appearance of key indicator species in your area.
Internationally, Australian students can use the internet to help teach a computer algorithm how to identify birds at the All About Birds Cornell Lab of Ornithology or classify galaxies at Galaxy Zoo.
The best thing about using citizen science is that the Citizen Science programs provide the information and training needed to participate. All the teacher needs is enthusiasm and the impetus to connect their students to real science in the real world.