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Japan Turns to Science for All Americans to Increase Public Interest in Science
Just three months after its release, the Japanese translation of Science For All Americans already has been downloaded at least 3000 times from the Web site of AAAS's Project 2061, demonstrating how the education concepts in the book have global applications.
Written by scientists, engineers, mathematicians, educators, historians and other experts, Science for All Americans defined what every high school graduate should know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology in order to understand and thrive in the modern world. It also recommended steps the nation's education system could take to make that goal a reality. First published by Project 2061 in 1989, the seminal work has 200,000 copies in print, is free online and has been translated into Spanish and Chinese in addition to the recent Japanese translation.
Project 2061 is a long-term AAAS initiative that works to reform science, mathematics and technology education at the K-12 levels. Efforts to translate Science for All Americans into Japanese began a few years ago when a group of Japanese scientists and educators sought a way to boost the scientific literacy of the nation's citizens. "In Japan the public interest in science is quite poor," said Kazuo Kitahara, director of the science literacy projects. "They're quite interested in the product of science, but not the science itself."
Kitahara, a theoretical physicist, became interested in encouraging non-scientists to appreciate science in 2002 when he became president of the Japanese Physics Society. "I realized that the encouraging youth to take an interest in science fields is very important," Kitahara said. "Especially by showing that everyday life is closely related to science." Later, Kitahara was nominated to the Science Council of Japan's Special Committee of Promotion of Science Capacity of Youth, and he became more interested in science education. While serving as chairman of that committee, he organized a taskforce of scientists and educators to create the project Science for All Japanese as a way to increase science literacy in Japanese citizens.
Funded by the Japanese government's Ministry of Education, the Japanese translation of Science for All Americans is intended in increase public interest and understanding in science.
Kitahara is especially fond of a passage in the book that describes how science is a blend of logic and imagination, how imagination is necessary when making logical deductions about nature. "I believe that this is the point where natural science and humanity—or traditional culture—are bridged," he said. "In order to implement science literacy, we need to know about our cultural background."
Before the Science for All Japanese project, there had been many other activities for improving science education, such as scientists giving lectures at schools. But the activities lacked coordination and purpose, because "the goal for science promotion was not clear," Kitahara said. "In this sense, the basic idea in Science for All Americans was to show the essence of science to be shared by all people." The taskforce decided to pursue a similar approach in science literacy initiatives in Japan.
The Japanese group became impressed by Science for All Americans. "It's a small book," he said of the 270-page volume. "But it covers science in a very compact form." The group asked Project 2061 about translating the work into Japanese, and the translation began around 2003 and was posted online this spring.
"I'm delighted that so many countries continue to find Science for All Americans useful to their efforts to improve science education," said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of AAAS' Project 2061. Science for All Americans served as a basis for Project 2061's "Benchmarks for Science Literacy," a curriculum-design tool for educators. It does not dictate any particular curricular approach, but rather helps educators design curricula that make sense to them while targeting essential ideas. Like Science for All Americans, "Benchmarks" has also been translated into Spanish and Chinese.
2 July 2008