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There are various socio-scientific issues, such as human cloning and GM crops, that demonstrate that science cannot always provide the ‘right’ answer for every problem because sometimes there is not actually a right answer.   Therefore the public needs to have an understanding of the moral and ethical issues surrounding these topics, of the scientific method and assessment of risk; and hence they need to be taught the necessary skills to be able to make those decisions.  

So is there a level of scientific understanding that is needed in order for students to be able to discuss and come to a decision about socio-scientific issues?  Andersson (1990) considers that to understand, for example how pollution from car exhausts can effect the environment, there needs to be an understanding of chemical reactions and conservation of mass.   Millar (1997) considers there to be ‘frameworks’ which are needed to understand these issues, these include, the gene model of inheritance and the transfer of energy and information by radiation.  However he does conclude that this knowledge, by itself, is not sufficient for ‘understanding a socio-scientific dispute’.  Ratcliffe and Grace (2003) are of the opinion that the ‘key concepts’ which are currently taught in the curriculum are sufficient for students to be able to engage with socio-scientific issues that arise.

Various authors (Claxton 1997, Millar 1997 and Ratcliffe and Grace 2003) conclude that it is not possible to teach pupils all the scientific facts that will need in the future.  One reason is that we do not know what science knowledge will be needed, as scientific and technological change is so rapid it is difficult to predict what knowledge will be needed future generations.  Millar (1997) suggests that the curriculum should therefore provide a ‘framework of fundamental core ideas which provides the basis for acquiring a more detailed understanding of specific issues as and when they arise’.  Claxton’s (1997) view is that, as we do not know what the future jobs will be or the ‘tools’ that will be required, an aim of education should be to produce students who are capable of fashioning their own tools or of becoming ‘tool-makers’. 

The aim of science education could be therefore be said is to produce scientific literate citizens, who are able to apply the information they have learnt though formal schooling to the socio-scientific issues that they could be faced with in the future and come to an informed decision which can be justified.

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Last modified: 08/12/04