Science and Society Programs Fuel Drive for Technological Literacy

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  • EDUCATION

    Science and Society Programs Fuel Drive for Technological Literacy

    Conference focuses on need for technological literacy at all student levels and on approaches and materials directed at achieving it

    Technological literacy is an idea whose time may be nearly at hand. That, at least, is the impression giv-en early this month in Washington, D.C., by the Second National Sci-ence, Technology, Society (STS) Conference: Technological Liter-acy.

    "Our goal is coalition building," says Rustum Roy, director of Penn-sylvania State University's Science, Technology & Society program. Roy was cochairman of the conference, along with George Bugliarello, pres-ident of Polytechnic University, New York City. The aim, Roy ex-plains, is to create a community, one which is truly interdisciplinary. The conference, he says, brings to-gether, for example, teachers and university professorspeople, he notes, who never in any other com-munity meet together. Added to these, he points out, are activists such as representatives of public in-terest groups sitting together with policy people.

    Indeed, the cosponsoring organi-zations were one indication of the breadth of interests brought to the meeting: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Amer-ican Society for Engineering Educa-tion, International Technology Ed-ucation Association, National Coun-cil of Teachers of English, and National Science Teachers Associa-tion. All told, the conference this year drew together for a three-day weekend some 750 registrants

    Roy: an approach on the move

    three times the number at the first conference last year.

    The focus of the coalition's atten-tion are the new science/technol-ogy/society programs and materi-als, designed to promote scientific and technological literacy. Among the features of the approach are that it is directed not just at elite stu-dents who aspire to careers in sci-ence and engineering, but at all learners. Also, the science disciplines are integrated with one another and with technology. And the social, po-litical, economic, and personal im-pacts of science and technology are clearly and frequently emphasized, so that students aren't left to wonder about the human importance of these fields.

    "Effective citizenship/' Roy ex-plains, "demands a new kind of lit-eracy in technology and science that cannot be met by adding a course in algebra. STS is a wholly new approach to making citizens more concerned about our technological

    culture, more comfortable in it, and more in control of their own lives and decisions."

    Also, says Roy, STS is an approach that's on the move. Many universi-ties are teaching it today, he notes. And it is international. In precollege education, Roy says, the Netherlands is way ahead, and Britain is next. In Canada, he points out, British Co-lumbia has started a mandated one-year STS curriculum. Ontario, he says, will move next year. New York is close to that. And Maryland is just behind.

    "It is an unstoppable tide," says Roy. "The funny part of it," he adds, is that there is no big program. Peo-ple do it because they feel it has to be done. There is a kind of nonspe-cific curriculum. Materials are being developed, and every school can choose which to use. But, Roy says, "the label is there: science, technol-ogy, and society."

    The need to develop technologi-cal literacy in the general public

    Gibbons: imperatives drive the need

    26 February 23, 1987 C&EN

  • has been the theme of many national reports and studies in recent years. Officers and speakers at the conference underscored those needs as they see them. Says Bugliaiello, for example: "We are a nation of technological illiterates, at risk in industry, in defense, and indeed in our culture. If we are to maintain our competitive position in the world, technological literacy must be accorded top national priority/ '

    To Mary Budd Rowe, presidentelect of the National Science Teachers Association, 'Technology is the public face of science. It drives the economy and affects political outlook. It is both a source of hope for the future and fear for it." Students, Rowe says, complain that science courses fail to deal with the implications of technology for them, and history courses rarely show how politics and economics are tied to the history of technology.

    "Less and less of schooling," Rowe says, "seems suitable to the needs of young people today. Incorporation of a science/technology/society thread into the science, social studies, and math curricula would increase interest and provide an opportunity for students to engage in some socially relevant, real problem solving."

    John H. Gibbons, director of the Office of Technology Assessment, points out three imperatives driving the need for technological literacy. One, he says, is the economic necessity of technological literacy for the individualfor example, in job skills neededand for the competitiveness of the nation. The second is that the responsibilities for citizenship now demand that citizens raise their level of literacy about the issues on which their representatives are having to make decisions. If those decisions and those decision makers are pushed by events far enough ahead of the citizens, he says, then representative democracy no longer exists.

    Third, Gibbons says, "is that the fullness of human development and the very enjoyment of life itself more and more depend on things that include not only Superbowl but supercolliders, superconductivity, and lots of super things."

    James Krieger, Washington

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    February 23, 1987 C&EN 27

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