Australia’s science literacy falls: survey

July 17, 2013

A national survey has found that the science literacy of young Australian adults has fallen in the last three years, with just two-thirds correctly identifying the time it takes for the Earth to travel around the sun, compared with three-quarters in 2010.

The popular survey, Science literacy in Australia, conducted by Auspoll on behalf of the Australian Academy of Science, asked respondents questions of basic scientific fact.

The proportion of 18-24 year-olds who correctly answered that it takes one year for the Earth to orbit the sun fell to 62%, from 74%. The worst-performing age group was 65+, in which 46% of respondents answered correctly, compared with 51% in 2010.

There was a small increase in the number of people who know that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs – to 73% compared with 70% - and the number of Australians who believe that evolution is occurring was steady at 70% compared with 71% in 2010.

Other results included:

  • 39% know that 70% of the Earth’s surface is under water
  • 59% of all respondents know the Earth takes one year to orbit the sun
  • 70% know that evolution is currently occurring
  • 73% know people are influencing the evolution of other species
  • 73% know that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs
  • 79% say science education is very important or absolutely essential to the economy

Generally younger respondents, men and those with a higher education level were more likely to answer the questions correctly.

“It’s a worrying wake-up call to see scientific literacy declining among young adults, and to a lesser degree among the broader Australian adult population,” said Australian Academy of Science Secretary for Science Policy, Professor Les Field.

“However, I am very pleased that there is strong acknowledgement that science education is important to the Australian economy: indeed, quality science education is essential to building the skilled workforce and innovation economy of the future, as well as to raising scientific literacy in the general community.

“We need to make a stronger commitment to science and mathematics education in this country or Australia will fall behind in those sectors which rely on our top thinkers such as research, innovation, manufacturing and more.

“The Australian Academy of Science calls on all federal politicians to outline their commitment to science education and research ahead of the coming election.”

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