27 January 2005

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Towards a STL strategy for Malta
Education, Youth and Employment Minister Louis Galea speaks at the recent Comenius 3 workshop on ‘EU Enlargement and Scientific Literacy and Development'.   In his address, Dr Galea, makes a convincing case for the need for Malta to bolster its scientific and technological literacy and details Malta's strategy to see this happen.

Scientific and Technological Literacy (STL), in its broadest sense, means much more than simply being able to read, understand and write about science and technology, however important these are.   STL also includes the ability to apply scientific and technological concepts and process skills to fit the lifestyle, work patterns and culture of one's society.   It therefore includes attitudes and values enabling one to distinguish between worthwhile or inappropriate uses of science and technology.   Hence scientific and technological literacy implies:
•  The development of scientific and technological attitudes, approaches and skills which are necessary to cope with a rapidly changing environment and which are useful for problem-solving and decision-making in daily life;
•  An appreciation of the nature of science and technology, and the development of positive attitudes and values relating basic science and technology to other areas of human activity;
•  Exposure to effective teaching strategies and relevant examples of science technology, from an early age, either within a formal programme, or through non formal or distance education methods; and
•  Familiarisation with processes of accessing and communicating science and technology information and willingness to use it to meet personal, local or global requirements
It follows from the above definition that a person becomes scientifically and technologically literate by some involvement with applications of science and technology which interest them, or which they perceive as being significant or important to them….beyond the requirement of examinations.   Attitudes and confidence are usually most effectively developed by significant first-hand experiences.

The Division of Education attempts to bring into focus a meaningful scientific experience for all, and has developed a National Curriculum with strong emphasis on science and technology.   It elaborates on the aspects of knowledge, skills and attitudes in science.   When we speak of knowledge we understand that this is based on children's existing concepts in science.   It is so important to arouse children's curiosity about natural phenomena and stimulate the posing of questions about issues noted and observed.   It is also crucial that we insist on further development of skills in this area.   In order for our students to contribute effectively in society, both as children and adults, they need to be helped to gain the ability to develop cognitive skills related to science such as acquiring scientific language, making observations, taking measurements, gathering, analysing and interpreting data, making generalisations, creating models, communicating and carrying out investigation.   Students need to see that science makes sense and they can apply scientific knowledge in their everyday life.   If we speak of lifelong learners then we are speaking of an educational system that works towards equipping its learners with the ability to avail themselves of information technology to acquire, analyse, classify and communicate information and data.
It is evident that this whole process requires an attitudinal change from all.   It is all about changing the perception that science can provide absolute truth and provide a solution to all problems.   Students need to be shown the ways of how to appreciate the scientific process as one way of appreciating life and in turn it is hoped that this will help them develop a positive critical attitude towards scientific developments, while recognising the limitations of science.
The Primary Science and Technology Unit of the Curriculum Department within the Division of Education is fully committed to help schools meet these objectives, from an early age.
Modalities for securing effective progression into the secondary level are currently under consideration as to compliment what has already been achieved at MCAST notwithstanding the fact that it has been set up only these past few years.
All this is in harmony with our commitment to meet the Lisbon Objectives for Science and Technology.

Science and Technology Literacy: Towards a Strategy for Malta
1. Why we need a strategy?
The drive to promote science and technology literacy needs to be addressed as part of a more holistic national strategy, tackling science-community and governance concerns in general. Why? Key policy decisions about the introduction and use of the latest developments in science and technology can no longer be taken by government and business leaders. Consultation with the public is critical in areas that impinge on science, technology and society particularly where ethical and cultural concerns are evident. The public needs to be informed and consulted on the use of genetically modified organisms in food, bio-ethical issues which impinge on health and other similar issues which emerge as science and technology impact on society.
One of the key challenges currently facing Malta is the lack of a national culture for science and technology. This largely relates to limited past investments in developing the local science and technology base in terms of human resources, equipment and international networking. Malta has one of the lowest levels of S&T graduates in Europe and strong efforts are needed to improve the national RTDI capacity. This is contributing to holding back Malta's transition to a knowledge society.

2. Progress achieved so far
The MCST's main remit is to encourage increased public and private investments in science and research with a view to promoting a culture for science, technology and innovation. An important dimension of MCST's activities relates to science popularisation and there is an ongoing programme of events organised to encourage science-society links. Over the years, MCST has been active in the area of science popularisation through the organisation of regular Science and Technology Weeks, consensus-building conferences and training for science journalists.   MCST is a member of EUSCEA, the European Science Events Association and has links with COPUS and ASTC.
In 2003, the updated national RTDI Strategy highlighted the lack of a Science, Technology and Innovation culture and proposed the launch of a National RTDI Programme targeted primarily at improving RTDI capacity at University and in local firms.   The Programme has been successful in attracting a strong response from both the public and private sectors and the recent international evaluation of the proposals by top European domain experts held in January 2005 has highlighted the high quality of proposals submitted. The international panel is currently preparing a report that will underline the need for further investments of this kind as part of Malta's RTDI capacity-building strategy. It is envisaged that these recommendations will provide a valuable input into the current preparations for the next National Development Plan 2007-2013.

3. Proposed National Strategy for Science-Community Governance
The proposed National Strategy for Science-Community Governance could provide an important counter-balance to the National RTDI Strategy that involved essentially a top-down approach, by addressing the bottom-up aspects of RTDI development and implementation.
It is envisaged that the national strategy could be organized around a number of policy thrusts, as follows:

Policy Thrust 1: Science and Technology Education to Drive Innovation
Improving Malta's weak indicators in the Innovation Scoreboard and other EU and global benchmarking exercises in research and innovation, through targeted science and technology education activity; aimed at increasing the take-up of science and technology subjects at school, MCAST and University with subsequent employment in relevant high value-added sectors.  

Policy Thrust 2: Science Popularisation for an informed public
Keeping the Maltese community and the citizen informed about key scientific developments which are having or are likely to have a major impact on their way of life and culture, e.g. genetically-modified food, climate change, bio-ethics, among others.   This will be done through a dedicated science popularisation activity drawing on various resources including support for the media and journalists, information technology-based initiatives and fora, and traditional information briefings.

Policy Thrust 3: Science for Politicians and Parliamentarians for science-based policies
Closer interactions between science and politicians and parliamentarians are becoming critical in the knowledge-based economy, not only in terms of content but also process. Science and technology pervade the national agenda as drivers in all sectors and they also provide the tools for more systematic approaches to policy development and implementation. This activity aims to familiarize politicians and parliamentarians with key science and technology issues and challenges, and the inputs and tools provided by Science and Technology.   The aim is to develop a more structured and consensus-based dialogue on RTDI bridging Ministerial and Parliamentary divides.

Policy Thrust 4: Science-Policy-Community dialogue for effective governance
Ensuring that the community and the citizen are informed about ongoing national strategic discussions relating to science, research and innovation which have an impact on society and depend on active take-up by the citizen. These include: The National Research and Technological Development Strategy (2003-6), A Sustainable Development Strategy for Malta (2004-2009), National ICT Strategy, the Social Pact and other relevant strategies and visions. The science governance activity aims to demystify the science and research elements on the agenda for the layperson in order to ensure sufficient understanding of the future implications of these strategies. The end result is that the community-policy-maker links will be improved and that this should lead to an informed say on the part of the citizen and the community as to strategic future policy directions. This activity will involve events aimed at eliciting and shaping public opinion such as consensus conferences (in which lay people and scientists exchange views and build mutual understanding in a structured way) and foresight-based consultation exercises.

During the past years an urgent need has been recognised for a community of citizens that have acquired the new competences, including those of being scientifically literate.   This is essential in order to sustain the natural environment and to enhance the overall quality of life.   Indeed scientific and technology literacy provide a vehicle which can promote and provide opportunities for all to become involved in sustainability.   The European Economies need to have a strong science and technology literacy base if they are to maintain their competitive edge over other emerging economies.   As traditional manufacturing industries move across the globe in search for low-cost workforces the European workforce has to restructure and adjust to face this challenge and emerge stronger.   Scientific literacy at all levels, and with the necessary life-long learning opportunities, are key to the economic strength of the Union.

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