PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Year 12 science students' perception of genetic engineering

Jenny Edwards  

Do year 12 science students readily support genetic manipulation when they are helped to understand it better? Or does greater understanding actually strengthen existing apprehensions and awaken new ones?

Many Australian high schools have introduced genetic engineering into senior chemistry or biology courses. Unfortunately, few high school science teachers have training in the area and the materials required for practical lessons are well beyond most school science budgets. Recognising this, the Green Machine Science Education Centre (a collaborative venture between CSIRO Education Programs, the CRC for Plant Science and the ACT Department of Education) in Canberra has developed workshops for senior high school students and teachers which incorporate hands-on laboratory based experiments as well as presentations on the theory, applications and issues raised by genetic engineering. These workshops have travelled to CSIRO Science Education Centre in Darwin, Adelaide, Sydney and Townsville.

If an education in science is to provide knowledge of science, experience of the process of scientific method and an understanding of the social, cultural and ethical implications, of science then gene technology is an area rich in possibilities.

A number of studies have been conducted world wide (Australia included) on public attitudes to, and understanding of, gene technology. Most of these surveys have involved random adult samples. In this study, young people with a background in science were surveyed to ascertain whether they held similar views. At the same time, the effects of the CSIRO Science Education Centre "Gene Technology in Action" Workshops on students' understanding of, and attitude to this new field of science were also investigated.

Using pre- and post-visit questionnaires Year 12 science students' major misconceptions and concerns about genetic engineering were identified and changes of attitude resulting from further education in the area were assessed. The results of this study will be described in this paper.

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