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close this bookPopularization of Science and Technology - What Informal and Non-formal Education Can Do? (Faculty of Education,University of Hong Kong - UNESCO, 1989, 210 p.)
close this folderPapers presented at the Conference:
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentScience for all people: Some educational settings and strategies for the popularisation of science and technology - Harbans Bhola
View the documentNonformal education: A hinge between science and culture - Camillo Bonanni
View the documentThe popularisation of science and technology from an educational designer’s standpoint - Fred Goffree
View the documentPatterns of nonformal and informal education effective for the polarization of science and technology - Ana Krajnc
View the documentScience and technology in public adult education - Klaus Pehl
View the documentCompetition and complementarity between formal and nonformal education - Jean-Emile Charlier
View the documentIndigenous cultural tradition and the popularisation of science and technology - Bernard H.K. Luk
View the documentPopularization of science and technology: The cultural dimension - Cheng Kai Ming
View the documentThe role of Science Teacher Associations in promoting the popularisation of science through nonformal means - Jack B. Holbrook
View the documentPopularizing educational technology: The INNOTECH model - Jose B. Socrates
View the documentOut-of-school activities: The road to success - Cheng Donghong
View the documentEducation and technology transfer in Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, China - Gerard Postiglione
View the documentPopularization of science and technology - Kurt Prokop

Science for all people: Some educational settings and strategies for the popularisation of science and technology - Harbans Bhola


The ideal of “Health for All by the Year 2000” was adopted by WHO in 1981. “Education for All by the Year 2000” will be formally put on the world ‘ s educational agenda at the International Symposium jointly sponsored by UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF and The World Bank to be held in Thailand during March 1990. Why shouldn’t “Science for All People” be part of the “Education for All” initiative?

In proposing “Science for All People”, we do not, of course, hope to make Einstein’s out of all the world’s men and women, what we do hope is that, while keeping the best of each of our indigenous traditions, we will also inherit the new scientific culture - that set of skills, understandings, and habits of mind to which all humanity has contributed, to some degree, over the span of human history. We must claim our total heritage of traditional values and scientific vectors.

Why Science for All People?

A case for “Science for All People” can be made on grounds both moral and material. There is something highly immoral about a world which denies most of humanity a significant part of the collective human knowledge called science; and keeps away from those scientifically and technologically disadvantaged populations, the full enjoyment of the fruits of technology of production, communication, transportation, and health made possible by scientific knowledge and technology.

The case for “Science for All people” is equally compelling on material grounds - for simple reasons of bread and butter. Since the post-War years, socioeconomic development has been on the political agendas of all nations, developed and developing, Development will stay on the policy agendas particularly, of developing nations for the foreseeable future. What is germane to our discussion is the fact that development today is impossible without science and technology.

Whatever the definition of development for a particular culture or a nation state, development will be impossible unless science and technology can be put to work to produce the surpluses necessary for the eradication of poverty and hunger from among the burgeoning populations and to provide the necessary services in health and welfare. It is important to note that science and technology are needed not merely at the heights of the economy in its industrial and Hi-Technology sectors, but also in the informal sectors of subsistence economies. Indeed, science and technology are needed with much greater urgency in the informal sectors of the economies of scarcities in the Third World where farmers and workers may be able to use new knowledge and skills without having to wait for the political and economic structures to change first.

The Nature of the Crisis

The popularisation of science and technology today is a necessity, not a frill - something nice to have! Science, and the technology that science has spawned, already define and totally permeate our environment. Science and technology are with us on the land, in the air and on water; in the desert and on hill-top; in the city and the village; affecting our lives at work? play and prayer; in our wakeful and sleeping hours; and in sickness and health, and in happiness and sorrow. There is no hiding from science and technology. Most humanity is benefiting from the fruits of science and technology. But many are being hurt. Some are dying in their encounters with technology for lack of knowledge to cope with the omnipresent intruder in their lives.

The problem is manifold:

· Without enough understandings of science and technology, and yet being forced to come in contact with it in daily encounters, thousands and maybe millions are getting hurt - physically, emotionally, biologically - and, sometimes, fatally.

· Without enough understanding of science and technology, human beings are unable to make a positive use of science and technology as a social good for their benefit.

· Without enough understanding of science and technology, human beings are unknowingly making decisions and undertaking actions that are destroying their physical environment and endangering the survival of their own progeny.

· Without proper appreciation of science and technology, many cultures and subcultures are unable to renew their traditions, by failing to join the wisdom of their cultural tradition with the wisdom of the scientific tradition.

The costs of lack of scientific knowledge are high indeed. In Kenya, for example, hundreds of farmers are dying annually being unable to take proper precautions in using the fertilizers and pesticides which they are advised to use by the agricultural extension workers. In misusing technology, farmers, workers and housewives all over the Third World are unknowingly collaborating in the pollution and destruction of their water, land and air resources. The scientifically illiterate are unable to use science and technology for their good as they continue to live lives ravaged by preventable diseases and brutalised by hard labor that could be eased by the simple technology of the wheel and the pulley. Finally, they are easily swayed by the unscruplous politician in the name of tradition to continue to cling to the past and refuse to enter the future.

Problems and Contraints

Two major problems are implicit in the above discussion:

I. Political actors (sometimes abbetted by scholars) create an unnecessary conflict between cultural tradition and scientific technology, and then impose an either/or choice on honest and simple folks, thereby inciting people to reject science and to choose tradition.

II. There is a lack of trained scientific talent in most developing countries that could be used to promote understandings of science and technology and help towards a symbiosis of tradition - the old wisdom, and science - the new wisdom.

The Continuities between Tradition and Science

Unfortunately too many of us have been taught to put science in contradiction to tradition. Science and technology are somehow thought to be the death-knell of tradition, the serial of humanism. This is not true. Indeed, we should see and promote the continuity between tradition and science. What is tradition anyway? It is the experience and wisdom of our forefathers handed down to us for our use and for use by future generations. Tradition is the old wisdom, wrapped in emotion. Science is the new wisdom, not yet internalised. Science is tradition in the making. Ideally there should be no conflict between them. The two should be continuous, one with the other. We do have to understand that traditions in fact die if not renewed, and traditions do hurt if not continuously and critically re-evaluated by each new generation. Also, we must accept the fact that all that is subsumed under the catch-all phrase tradition is not worth saving. No traditional knowledge was good for all people for all times. Traditions are good as anchors but should not be allowed to become shackles to progress. Those who preach the love of traditions themselves make use of new science and technology. Priests run television ministries. Governments that govern in the name of religion and tradition do not hesitate to spend billions on buying highly sophisticated technology of war.

Lack of Enough Trained Scientific Talent

The second problem we must face in designing educational settings and strategies for the popularization of science and technology is the lack of trained scientific talent in the Third World. There is a paucity of scientists, engineers, technologists and science teachers both at the college and school levels. Teaching materials are scarce. Science laboratories are non-existent. In the adult education area, scientific and technological content is rarely taught. Agricultural extension, health education and family life education can not avoid teaching some scientific and technological information but it is often taught superficially, without possibilities for transfer to other settings.

Settings and Strategies for the Popularisation of Science and Technology

The tasks before us are quite clear. We need to work toward a symbiosis between cultural traditions on the one hand and science and technology on the other; and to develop scientific talent for all the various sectors of the society, including the informal sectors of subsistence economies. What we are concerned about here then is not merely about writing science curricula but about creating scientific cultures built around the purified golden cores of different cultural traditions.

Dissemination theory tells us that the popularisation of science and technology, within a reasonable historical time-frame, will require the use of all settings and all channels of education and extension. The settings for teaching and learning science and technology for the creation of a scientific culture are:

- formal education (FE), including alternative formal education such as distance education;

- nonformal education (NFE), which can also be delivered through distance education; and

- informal education (IFE) which can be equated with socialisation.

The formal school offers the first but not necessarily the foremost setting. Indeed, experience with the popularisation of science through schooling has been disappointing. Most schools do not offer science. Those who do teach outdated curriculum, and do not teach it well. When science is taught reasonably well, it is academic in organization and hinders transfer to real-life problems and setting. Important initiatives need to be undertaken to improve the teaching of science in schools.

On the other hand, the channels of nonformal education for the popularization of science and technology seem particularly promising. The possibilities of nonformal education are immense in agricultural extension, health extension, and family life education. Nonformal education can and should be used not only for the transfer of technology but for teaching how to think science and to do technology.

Informal education in science and technology should begin at home. Of course, we have a problem here. Most parents in the Third World do not have scientific knowledge. This shifts our attention to how to break this vicious circle. Of course, we have radio and television that have entered many homes all over the world.

Business can play an important part in teaching science by teaching about safe uses of their products and instead of simply instructing they can explain. Again, we will have a problem here when dealing with the illiterate.

Institutional settings for the popularization of science and technology should go beyond typical institutions of adult nonformal education and should include business and industry, the army and indeed religious institutions.

The media should include folk media, print media, and the electronic media of film, radio and TV. That should point to the need of paying special attention to the teaching of writing on scientific subjects in our training programs for print journalism and telecommunication.

Scientific Knowledge through Functional Literacy

The concept and practice of functional literacy as one form of non-formal education seems tailor-made for popularization of scientific and technological knowledge. The concept of functional literacy first proposed at the Unesco Conference of 1965 in Teheran, Iran is indeed rooted in the assumption of teaching modern skills at work, both in the formal and informal sectors, whether one is growing vegetables in the small kitchen garden or working on the power loom in a textile factory. The concept of functional literacy, initially limited to economic concerns has now been generalised to the use of scientific knowledge at work, at home, and to the health of self and family.

Experience with functional literacy programs has already thought out at least two useful lessons:

1. That important knowledge of science and technology when taught in the context of farmers ‘and workers’ daily lives is easily understood and is actually utilised, if personal resources and surrounding context permit.

2. That scientific and technological knowledge taught in the context of work does transfer to other settings, especially if possibilities of such transfer are brought out in the course of teaching. Adults who are taught science and technology in functional literacy classes also disseminate this knowledge to other people in the family and in the neighborhood.

Assuming a Mission, Planning for Actions

If discussion and debate have to lead to actions and operations, a mission must be assumed, initiative defined and actions planned without loss of time. The following steps should be taken immediately:

a. Establish an adhocratic organisational arrangement to be responsible for keeping the momentum going; and to serve as a point of crystallisation around which multiple initiatives can be defined, professional networks created and appropriate actions taken.

b. Publish a usable report (or reports) on the International Conference and disseminate it/them widely to appropriate audiences.

c. Establish a newsletter on “Science for All People” which at some time may become a professional periodical.

d. Establish a committee of the concerned to work on a curriculum for science and technology for use in adult education and functional literacy projects. A beginning could be made with the monograph, Towards Scientific Literacy by Thomas and Kondo published in 1978 by the Unesco/Iranian Institute for Adult Literacy Methods in Teheran, Iran.

Other Actions to Follow

The list of actions above are those that we can undertake right here or agree to follow upon, on our own, with minor rearrangement of our own currently available resources. There are other actions, however, that we must actively lobby for:

1. Unesco should be asked to pay special attention to the popularization of science and technology through nonformal education, and particularly functional literacy programs. The proposed emphasis on “Adult Science Education” should be duly formalized through inclusion in Unesco’s programs of discussion and publication

1.1 Such a commitment should be demonstrated by UNESCO by making “Science for All People” an important thread in the “Education for All” initiative of UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank already under way.

1.2 Unesco should establish formal linkages at a programmatic level with the WHO project on “indigenous science” to help in the emergence of a symbiosis between traditional wisdom and scientific knowledge.

1.3 Unesco should convene a group of scientists to develop a universal core of human scientific experience for universal dissemination.

2. The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) as an international association of non-governmental associations should also be persuaded to complement their focus on culture with another focus on science and technology; and through its programs and publications to promote “adult science education?’.

3. Unesco should be advised to ask all member states to establish within appropriate national ministries and departments, Units for “Science for All People.” Such Units should:

3.1 Promote analysis of traditional knowledge with scientific and technological implications and its synthesis into indigenous science to be integrated with modern science.

3.2 Encourage scientists to become interested in dissemination of scientific knowledge within schools and through-out-of-school education and at the same time encourage adult educators to become interested in science and technology.

3.3 Establish committees and groups to develop science and technology curricula for the dissemination of science to different groups in diverse settings through use of all the different media available within a society.

3.4 Wherever possible, use appropriately, the institutions of religion, army and business to collaborate in the dissemination of science and technology.

3.5 Invent and establish community level institutions such as Vigyan Mandirs (Temples of Science) in India to promote science and technology at the local levels.


Some important things have already happened in regard to the mission of this Conference. The Conference itself will be seen as an important milestone on the road to progress. It must have already given some visibility to the idea. Some important practical ideas have been generated during our discussion and deliberations that we need to build upon. Finally, a network of those concerned with this important issue has come about and is ready to be extended and strengthened. What we need now is to stay committed and to continue the work.


1. Bhola, H.S., “Scientific Literacy for Adult Learners,” Bulletin of the Unesco Regional Office for Education in Asia, Number 18, June 1977, pp. 235-242.

2. Science for All Americans: A Project 2061 Report on Literacy Goals in Science, Mathematics, and Technology. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1333 H Street, N.W. Washington, D.C., 20005, 1987.

3. Thomas, Frederick J.& Kondo, Allan S. Towards Scientific Literacy. (In: Literacy in Development: A Series of Training Monographs. H.S. Bhola, Series Editor).Teheran, Iran: Unesco/Iranian Institute for Adult Literacy Methods, 1978.