How to achieve scientific literacy


Learning a language is applying its rules (the syntax) to create context. This is literacy, the communication of a message. In science this requires the use of mathematics by which we represent relations between objects. We have to learn this unique language to get at the core of scientific knowledge. Mathematics, or the quantitative description of relationships, includes the manipulation of symbols, which are the basic elements of language, be it the language of everyday life or the language of science. To write (to manipulate symbols)  is to explain a statement within a given context which we perceive as important. To calculate means to express a relation of values. But while numbers express the magnitude of a relation, the meaning of the relation is founded on an understanding of the exactness and validity of the calculation. To put it simple; using a calculator or computer results in impressive numbers, yet these numbers can be completely meaningless when using the wrong 'program' to do our calculation, adopting the wrong assumptions, or misunderstanding the accuracy the numbers are supposed to convey.

Finally, practice is the bread and butter of science. Practicing means to not just read and understand the logic of factual knowledge ('it makes sense') but to work with your hands, read with your senses, and think with your brain. Practice means to perform an experiment, to develop the logic of a proof, to deduce the origin of a mathematical formula. Practice also means to read, read, and read some more and get the full notion of scientific knowledge, information, and facts. With all its fascination, logic, and inconsistencies.

All education needs some measure of success. Thus, teaching and learning are continuously applied in the real world, but more importantly, tested as we go along and become educated. There is an economic premium in education because it prepares us for a professional life where we are part of manufacturing, inventing, buying and selling. A modern society demands quite a bit form its citizens in understanding and complying with its rules but also enjoying a level of unprecedented convenience thanks to modern technology in communication, health, work and leisure.


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