Science education for all

Scientists are only one part of the story

Khalil A. Cassimally 14 November 2010

Disease: one major challenge for science

For science to reach its potential, sincere political will, adequate funding resources and access to the best brains are essential

As a biomedical science student, I have often found myself engaged in discussions about science with fellow students from other faculties. It is always enlightening to discuss ideas about science policies, ethics and other interdisciplinary issues with people outside the field. By showcasing the views on science of different people with different academic backgrounds, and revealing the role and place of science in society as perceived by others, such discussions bridge the gap between science-in-the-lab and science-in-the-world.

From these discussions, I realised that people generally think that science has the obligation of fostering human welfare and the power to improve our standard of living. Challenges that mankind must face in these early years of the twenty first century reinforce its importance: we need to address terrible disorders such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and infectious diseases, and uncover their cures. Global climate change and ecological catastrophes also need attention, while sustainability (in terms of energy, food, living space and so forth) on an increasingly crowded planet is another major challenge. Mankind must tackle all of these problems in the near future and all have a scientific component, underscoring the crucial responsibility that science has for the community.

Although most of my fellow students from non-science faculties will not directly contribute to scientific progress, they will play their part in dictating to what extent science will be able to cater to its responsibilities. Science, albeit being the major enterprise, is but a contributory factor in the fulfilment of its own obligations. For science to reach its potential, sincere political will, adequate funding resources and access to the best brains are essential. And these are the responsibilities of the policy makers, communicators and the general public. The roles of scientists and “non-scientists” are thus intrinsically interconnected in a common pursuit.

For scientists and “non-scientists” to be able to fill these interconnected roles fully, they need to be on the same page. Indeed, the whole community needs to be on the same page. We all have to share the same fundamental views on the roles and responsibilities of science. And what better way – what better unifier – than education?

Only universal science education will allow scientific progress to flourish to its maximal potential – and ultimately to enable science to meet its obligations. To cultivate a science-conscious community, we must ensure that an adequate science education is provided to all members of the community. Science students, of course, are potential future scientists. As such, they need to be taught the scientific method and to develop critical reasoning and logic. They also need to be sensitised to the challenges faced by mankind so that they can be better prepared and aware of what is expected from them. But it is crucial that those students who opt for career paths away from the sciences are also provided a proper scientific background. This will allow them to become the conscious policy makers, informed communicators and aware voters that we need.

This is why although scientists are an essential part of the puzzle that leads to scientific progress, they cannot do the job alone. The community of “non-scientists” is just as important. Without the training of future scientists, the whole of mankind may risk losing in the face of the challenges ahead. But without the proper dissemination of sound scientific principles to other members of the community, science will not be allowed to fulfil its potential.

Reference :

Savkar, V. and Lokere, J. Time to Decide: The Ambivalence of the World of Science Toward Education. Nature Education: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2010.