It is now widely acknowledged that it is important to stimulate interest and curiosity in the natural sciences for the continuation and development of science and technology in South Africa. This study compares the science awareness and knowledge of first-year students at the University of the North (UNIN) in 1990 with that in 2001 and assesses whether this awareness has changed over the past ten years.

The study was based on a set of questions compiled by Durant et al. (1989) [Nature, 340, 11-14] designed to assess the British public’s awareness of science. First-year UNIN students from the Faculties of Science, Health and Agriculture, Humanities, and Management Sciences and Law were given a questionnaire in which they had to indicate whether they believed the statements to be true or false or whether they didn’t know the answer. The initial survey was carried out in 1990 (n=179) and repeated in 2001 (n=640).

In general, the results indicate that the science awareness and knowledge of science and non- science students was surprisingly similar, with some exceptions relating to more complex scientific concepts. From 1990 to 2001 there was a decrease in the percentage of students answering the science content questions correctly in 58% of the 17 questions asked. This decrease was observed in both groups of this study. It thus seems that the first-year UNIN student’s awareness and knowledge of science seems to have decreased within the past ten years. This finding is cause for concern and needs to be addressed.

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Science awareness and knowledge of first year students at the university

R. W. Becker   School of Molecular and Life Sciences

K. C. Lucas   School of Molecular and Life Sciences

R. C. Laugksch   School of Education, University of the North

It is now widely acknowledged that it is important to stimulate interest and curiosity in the natural sciences for the continuation and development of science and technology in South Africa. This study compares the science awareness and knowledge of first-year students at the University of the North (UNIN) in 1990 with that in 2001 and assesses whether this awareness has changed over the past ten years.

The study was based on a set of questions compiled by Durant et al. (1989) [Nature, 340, 11-14] designed to assess the British public’s awareness of science. First-year UNIN students from the Faculties of Science, Health and Agriculture, Humanities, and Management Sciences and Law were given a questionnaire in which they had to indicate whether they believed the statements to be true or false or whether they didn’t know the answer. The initial survey was carried out in 1990 (n=179) and repeated in 2001 (n=640).

In general, the results indicate that the science awareness and knowledge of science and non- science students was surprisingly similar, with some exceptions relating to more complex scientific concepts. From 1990 to 2001 there was a decrease in the percentage of students answering the science content questions correctly in 58% of the 17 questions asked. This decrease was observed in both groups of this study. It thus seems that the first-year UNIN student’s awareness and knowledge of science seems to have decreased within the past ten years. This finding is cause for concern and needs to be addressed.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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