Scientific Literacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Understanding Science
  • 0:50 What Is Science Literacy?
  • 1:30 Science Literacy in Education
  • 2:26 Examples
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Meredith Mikell
Understanding the physical and natural world around us requires a firm grasp of science literacy. In this lesson, we'll explore a definition of science literacy and look at some examples.

Understanding Science

When many people hear the word science, they may think of classes they took in high school involving frog dissections or toothpick towers or mixing strange chemicals in beakers. Some may even think of the controversy surrounding some contemporary science issues, such as global warming, vaccines, or genetically modified foods. What most people probably don't think of is the truest definition of science: the systematic way of investigating the natural world around us through observation and experimentation. Understanding this process is critical for us humans to navigate the aforementioned issues and continue to learn about the universe around us so that we can best live in it. For this reason, science literacy continues to be a key focal point in education, politics, and sociology.

What Is Science Literacy?

Science literacy is the knowledge of key science concepts and the understanding of science processes. This includes the application of science in cultural, political, social, and economic issues. All of these areas are ever-changing landscapes in today's world. For example, on the subject of climate change, someone who is scientifically literate:

  1. Is knowledgeable on basic Earth science and natural history facts
  2. Understands atmospheric, geological, and biological processes pertaining to climate
  3. Understands how climate research is conducted, and
  4. Is aware of the current geopolitical landscape pertaining to climate change

Science Literacy In Education

The issue of science literacy has become increasingly important in education. Schools now favor student learning through inquiry-based learning rather than through fact memorization. This means that understanding the process of science and the application of scientific concepts is the central goal.

At primary school levels, students are encouraged to think like scientists as they satisfy their curiosity about the natural world, and they are guided towards asking the right kinds of questions rather than simply finding the right answers. At secondary school levels, training scientific literacy increasingly incorporates more subject-specific factual knowledge and processes. These approaches help to ensure that students enter college with applicable skills, in addition to knowledge, whether or not they choose to pursue careers in science. The ultimate objective is to produce scientifically-responsible citizens, as scientists or otherwise as normal members of society.


The best examples of the importance of scientific literacy are hotly-debated issues that involve political legislation. For example, oil drilling and the building of pipelines is a subject with varying opinions and positions in the general public and among legislators. To drill or not to drill? This question does not have a clear answer grounded in scientific or ethical deliberation. But understanding the scientific realities involved with oil drilling, particularly the long-term consequences and economic probabilities, is crucial to formulating the best course of action.

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