Network for Information and Digital Access

Science Literacy

Science literacy (SL) relates to the ability to think scientifically and to use scientific knowledge and processes to both understand the world around us and to participate in decisions that affect it. 

The skill of being able to think scientifically about evidence - and the absence of it – in relation to claims that are made in the media and elsewhere is vital to daily life. Small amounts of accurate, relevant scientific information have the potential to transform individual, family and community abilities to shape their own world. 

A scientifically literate person can be defined as someone who has the capacity to:

  • understand, reflect upon and reason about scientific concepts, facts and processes relevant to environmental and social issues and required for personal decision making; 
  • ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences and natural phenomena;
  • pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately;
  • evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it; interpret with understanding items about science in the popular media;
  • identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed about daily life, the natural world and changes made to it through human activity;
  • converse and communicate clearly and engage in reasoned discourse about science and technology.

Given the growing centrality of science and technology in modern societies, it follows that formal education should equip most people in this way. However, this is often far from the case: opportunities for lifelong learning in non-formal settings are also needed.  

Several debates shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda have recognised that science literacy at the citizen’s level in developing and transitional countries is also essential for increasing the possibility of sustainability and for the protection and conservation of irreplaceable global resources. 

Citizens in developing countries still have limited access to reliable and current scientific information in their native language and at their level of understanding (i.e., without technical jargon). Illiteracy is widespread so that images can be important in communicating knowledge.   The emergence of widespread access to the Internet, providing access to a vast range of resources and information relevant to understanding science, increasingly supported by translation tools, has impacted this situation, but access and digital skills necessary to use this resource are not yet universal.

Equal opportunity is essential, to ensure that women and men participate in and benefit from advances equally as citizens and as contributors to the societies they live in.  A majority of the world’s 1 billion people living in poverty are women and children. Technological change, especially when it is designed to improve the quality of life, has often been more directed to the tasks that men perform. Empowering women to use technologies and understand science can benefit social and economic development as a whole.

We welcome comments on the draft definitions of terms for Science Literacy with a view to their improvement and to come to a common understanding. Please complete this form.