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Xinhua Insight: China to increase public's scientific literacy


BEIJING, Aug. 13,2016 (Xinhua) -- China has firm plans to increase scientific literacy among the public.

According to a science and technology progress plan published by the State Council on Monday, China expects its knowledge-intensive services to contribute to 20 percent of GDP by 2020.

The plan lists measures to improve legislation on scientific research and technological development, streamline fund raising systems and raise the efficiency of governance.

It also pledges greater efforts in the education, publicity and popularization of science, intending to raise the proportion of scientifically-literate citizens to 10 percent by 2020.

A 2015 survey by the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) revealed that the proportion of scientifically-literate citizens has almost doubled from 3.27 percent in 2010 to 6.2 percent last year.

Major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin were higher, reaching 18.7 percent, 17.5 percent and 12 percent respectively, similar to levels in the U.S. and Europe at the turn of the century.

In April, China's central authorities issued national standards to measure Chinese citizens' scientific understanding.

Aside from scientific knowledge, such as the big bang or evolution theories, scientific understanding also requires citizens to have the relevant thinking ability, said Qiu Chengli, an official with the science popularization section of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

"For example, when an earthquake or an emergency happens, people need to have the basic ability to save themselves or others," Qiu said.

The proportion of scientifically-literate citizens in China has often been on the low side compared with many developed countries. The figure for the United States reached 28 percent in 2008 and with Swedish citizens it was 35 percent in 2005.
Qiu said China's science popularization campaign also needs an innovative touch.

By the end of 2014, China had more than 1,100 science and technology museums.

However, in a country that has an online population of 710 million, the Internet is now the preferred channel for people to gain science information.

The CAST survey found that over 53 percent of Chinese people obtain scientific knowledge online and for those with a better scientific understanding it rises to over 91 percent.

"It is time to educate scientific and technological minds," said Li Zhimin, director of the Science and Technology Development Center under the Ministry of Education, adding that science-related websites, digital museums, and digital libraries should all play their part in the campaign. Li also pointed out efforts to draw more private funds to the cause.

In 2014, public spending made up 76 percent of the 15 billion yuan (2.25 billion U.S. dollars) spent popularizing science.

"We saw successful examples such as the 'Sony ExploraScience' project sponsored by Sony, and scientific elements in the U.S. Disney park. Why not support enthusiastic Chinese enterprises and organizations?" Li said.

The plan said that youngsters, farmers, migrant workers and public servants will be the key groups targeted in the science promotion campaign.

Chen Zhiwen, chief editor of the education website www.eol.cn, called for changes in the science education of young Chinese.

"We used to think that the results of education outweigh the process. However, it is actually the process of education that cultivates children's scientific spirit and thinking."

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