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News from the National Academies
Date: Jan. 17, 2002
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Officer
Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

[ EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE 10:30 A.M. EST THURSDAY, JAN. 17 ]

Publication Announcement

Improving Technological Literacy Needs National Effort;
Potential Benefits Are Many, Report Says

Most Americans know little about the world of technology, yet from day to day they must make critical decisions that are technologically based, such as whether to buy genetically engineered foods or transmit personal data over the Internet. Moreover, the use of technology as a learning tool in the classroom is often confused with the broader concept of being technologically literate -- knowing something of the nature and history of technology, as well as having a certain level of skill in using technologies and thinking critically about them.

Neither the educational system nor the policy-making apparatus in the United States has recognized the importance of this more comprehensive view of technological literacy, says a new report from the National Academies' National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. It calls for a broad-based effort to increase the technological literacy of all Americans, a goal that will have many benefits including more informed decision-making by citizens and business and government leaders about the development and use of technology, and a more erudite population that will be better prepared for the demands of today's high-tech work environment.

Learning about technology should begin in kindergarten, and the connection between all subjects and technology should be emphasized throughout a student's education, the report says. Technology content should be infused into curricula, teaching materials, and student assessments. At the federal level, the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education should provide incentives for publishers to include technology content in new science, history, social studies, and language arts textbooks. Likewise, technologically focused agencies such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health should support the development of curricula for teachers of all subjects and grades, especially to help make clear the connections between technology, science, and other school subjects.

All educators should be better prepared to teach about technology, the report says. Schools need to move beyond the perception of technology as a separate subject to be taught in "shop class." Science teachers in particular need a solid education in technology and engineering, and even history and social studies teachers should be required to know how technology relates to their subjects. Schools should ensure that teachers specializing in technology follow standards issued by the International Technology Education Association.

One exception to the general neglect of technology education is the area of computers and information technology. But too often the emphasis is on how information technology, most notably computers and the Internet, can improve the learning process, rather than on the need for students to learn about technology itself, the report says. Furthermore, many schools believe that because they offer computer classes, they are already teaching about technology -- an attitude that can impede the drive toward more general technological studies.

To spur improvements in the education system, the National Science Foundation, in partnership with industry, should fund an award that recognizes innovative, effective approaches for improving the technological literacy of students or the public. In addition, government and industry leaders should receive training on a regular basis about key technological issues through intensive courses, and engineering societies should institute fellowship programs to create a cadre of policy experts and journalists with a background in engineering.

Government decision-making would be enhanced if more opportunities were available for the public to become involved in discussions about technological issues, the report adds. Through creative exhibits and programs, museums and science and technology centers can help the out-of-school public be better prepared to participate in these discussions.

This study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Battelle Memorial Institute. The National Research Council and National Academy of Engineering are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science and technology advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering.

Read the full text of Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology for free on the web. A companion Web site can be viewed at http://www.nae.edu/techlit. Printed copies of the report are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or by calling (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pe-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[This announcement and the report are available at http://national-academies.org]


NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING

and

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Committee on Technological Literacy

A. Thomas Young1 (chair)
Executive Vice President
Lockheed Martin Corp. (retired)
North Potomac, Md.

Paul Allan
Teacher Education Supervisor
Pacific Science Center
Seattle

William A. Anders1
Chairman
General Dynamics (retired)
Eastsound, Wash.

Taft H. Broome Jr.
Professor of Civil Engineering
Howard University
Washington, D.C.

Jonathan R. Cole
Provost and Dean of Faculties and
John Mitchell Mason Professor
Columbia University
New York City

Rodney L. Custer
Chair
Department of Industrial Technology
Illinois State University
Bloomington

Goéry Delacôte
Professor of Physics
University of Paris, and
Executive Director
The Exploratorium
San Francisco

Denice D. Denton
Dean of Engineering, and
Professor of Electrical Engineering
University of Washington
Seattle

Paul De Vore
President
PWD Associates
Morgantown, W.Va.

Karen Falkenberg
Doctoral Candidate
Emory University
Atlanta

Shelagh A. Gallagher
Assistant Professor of Education
University of North Carolina
Charlotte

Joyce Gardella
Principal
Gardella & Associates
Watertown, Mass.

David T. Harrison
Dean of Business Technologies
Sinclair Community College
Dayton, Ohio

Paul Hoffman
Writer and Consultant
Chicago

Jondel Hoye
President
Keep the Change Inc.
Silver Spring, Md.

Thomas P. Hughes
Mellon Professor Emeritus
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia

Mae C. Jemison2
Founder and President
Jemison Group
Houston

F. James Rutherford
Education Adviser to the Executive Officer
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Washington, D.C.

Kathryn C. Thornton
Professor of Technology, Culture, and Communication, and
Director
Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education
University of Virginia
Charlottesville

Robert F. Tinker
President and Chairman
Concord Consortium
Concord, Mass.

STAFF

Greg Pearson
Study Director


1 Member, National Academy of Engineering
2 Member, Institute of Medicine