The State Council, China's Cabinet, recently issued a new long-term national action plan for improving the public's scientific literacy over the next 15 years, with goals to make 15 percent of the country's population scientifically literate by 2025, and 25 percent by 2035.
The document, titled National Action Plan for Scientific Literacy 2021-2035, was released in early June. By the end of last year, about 10.56 percent of China's total population was scientifically literate thanks to a series of scientific outreach programs that have been enacted since 2006, when the last national plan took effect, according to the China Association for Science and Technology.
Scientific literacy refers to the understanding of scientific concepts and processes, as well as the ability to apply them in analyzing and solving real-life, practical issues. As a result, scientific literacy is an important part of a population's overall ability.
The improvement in scientific literacy is not only an intrinsic demand in the construction of an innovation-driven country, but is also a foundation project to create an innovative environment and cultivate innovative talent, according to the journal, Science Bulletin.
Meng Qinghai, vice-president of the CAST, told Xinhua News Agency that China has made remarkable progress in improving scientific literacy, but the proportion of the nation's scientifically literate population is still relatively low, with an imbalance between different demographics, age groups and economic statuses.
For example, 24.30 percent of Shanghai's residents and 24.07 percent of Beijing's residents were scientifically literate last year, and they were the top two in the nation in that regard. However, only seven provinces had a scientifically literate population higher than the national average of 10.56 percent last year.
Scientific literacy among western provinces (8.44 percent), rural regions (6.45 percent) and female citizens (8.82 percent) was noticeably lower than the national average.
"Without a general improvement in the public's scientific literacy, it will be difficult to establish a large, high-quality, innovative talent pool," Meng said. "Improving scientific literacy can benefit an individual's overall development, help modernize a country's governing systems and capability, and contribute to building a community with a shared future for mankind."
Over the next five years, the new plan says China will invest more resources in popularizing science, develop more science education infrastructure, enhance scientific outreach at the grassroots level and promote international exchanges and cooperation.
The plan is also targeting five priority groups for scientific literacy improvement: teenagers; farmers; industrial workers; the elderly; and civil servants and officials.
"We are changing our public scientific communication strategies from broad and general to being more precise and specific," Meng said.
For young adults, the plan aims to find ways to tap into their curiosity and imagination, encourage interest in science and nurture their potential to become future scientists.
To meet these goals, scientific education and science popularization will be enhanced from elementary school to the university level, especially in rural regions.
Meanwhile, students and teachers will have greater access to science education resources outside of the classroom, thus improving educators' scientific literacy, while granting students more opportunities to learn and do experiments.
In addition, more teachers will be trained in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, general technology and information technology as universities offer new science-related majors. China is hoping to train 100,000 science and technology communicators every year, some of whom will be deployed at the grassroots level to support local teaching staff.
For the agricultural population, the scientific literacy campaign will enhance education on environmental protection, energy and resource conservation, green production, disaster prevention, public health and changes in old customs and habits. The scientific literacy of girls and women in rural areas will also be improved.
Talent training, competitions, job fairs and other programs will be carried out to encourage innovation, improve scientific literacy among farmers and promote the modernization of rural regions. The plan seeks to train over 10 million farmers and cultivate more than 1 million village entrepreneurs to spearhead local innovation.
As for industrial workers, it is important to equip craftsmen and workers with new skills and opportunities for self-improvement through new training programs and education opportunities, according to the plan. Entrepreneurs should play a positive role in helping their employees become more scientifically literate and take advantage of their potential for innovation.
The plan also specified that government officials should familiarize themselves with China's science and technology development strategies and improve their ability to make decisions based on science. Scientific literacy will also be given weight during the recruitment and evaluation of civil servants.
Trust in science
According to the annual 3M State of Science Index survey, trust in science has significantly grown among Chinese citizens since the COVID-19 outbreak began, as 98 percent of participants agree－compared to 85 percent globally－that such trust will lead to a better future.
About 97 percent of people in China also said they trust science today. China showed the highest percentage of trust in science among all 17 nations surveyed.
Chen Rui, deputy director of the Center for Science and Technology Communication at the CAST, said science, technology and innovation have become key competitive concerns in international affairs.
The world needs the wisdom of the Chinese scientific community in tackling many common challenges, but China cannot contribute without effective science communication and a scientifically literate population, he said.
Zhang Jinhui, general manager of Zhongguancun Software Park in Beijing, said they recently established a science communication center dedicated to educating the public about the cutting-edge work done by high-tech companies in the park.
Effective scientific communication requires joint effort by scientists, companies, media and the public, he said. Meanwhile, it is also important to adopt new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing and others to enhance communication efficiency, he added.