Scientific literacy has become the major goal of science education in many countries as well as Turkey. In line with this goal, the purpose of this study is to investigate the scientific literacy level of elementary students in Turkey. In this study, the scientific literacy level of students is investigated through “Scientific Literacy Test” adapted by the researchers. The test was administered to 946 elementary students enrolled in 6th, 7th and 8th grades in nine cities during the academic year of 2008-2009. The results of the study showed that 8th grade students significantly differ in their scientific literacy level compared to 6th and 7th grade students. However, eight graders have also some difficulties on some items related to the nature of science.
Scientific literacy has been recognized as an important characteristic that every citizen in a modern society should possess. In this respect science education is critical for developing students’ scientific literacy, which is turn in future scientifically literate citizens. Therefore, this study was aimed at exploring the scientific literacy levels of elementary students enrolled in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, and the results of this study showed that elementary students have a moderate level of scientific literacy. This result is promising when the results of PISA 2006 assessment, which indicated that only a few number of these students were found to be able to identify the scientific components of many complex life situations, is considered.
However, it is clear that science educators should put in more efforts to increase the students’ moderate level scientific literacy. After realizing the importance of scientific literacy as a major goal of science education in the world, science educators in Turkey made some efforts to improve science curricula. It is stated in the Science and Technology curriculum in Turkey that regardless of the individual differences, the main goal of science education is to educate all students as scientifically literate. Obviously, this effort would be useful in this regard because the new Turkish science curriculum might help students develop a moderate level of scientific literacy.
When the grade levels were examined in terms of scientific literacy levels, the results of this study revealed that students already have an average level of scientific literacy as they started upper elementary (e.g. 6th grade). Although the level of scientific literacy is seen to be increasing at 7th grade, there is no statistically significant difference between 6th and 7th grades in terms of scientific literacy level. A significant difference in increasing scientific literacy is only seen at 8th grade. In the light of these results, it can be concluded that although new Science and Technology curriculum makes a difference in scientific literacy for upper elementary students, it is not effective to raise the levels to more satisfactory. For that reason, it is necessary to explore ways to improve scientific literacy levels of students at each grade level. According to BouJaoude (2002) teaching, assessment, the quality of textbooks used, participating in extra-curricular scientific activities, and experiencing science in out-of-school contexts are important factors influencing the students’ scientific literacy level.