[BEIJING] Raising public awareness about science has, for the first time, been made an official part of China's national development strategy.
A 15-year plan for boosting scientific literacy, announced last week (20 March) by the State Council, states that the population's lack of scientific knowledge has considerably hindered China's economic and social development.
The plan has two main aims: boosting China's scientific power and the role that science plays in the country's development, and equipping Chinese citizens with the skills needed to apply an understanding of science and technology to daily life.
By 2010, China aims to have raised its population's understanding of science to levels achieved in industrialised nations in the 1980s. And by 2020, it wants science literacy to have risen to the same level as in the West today.
A 2003 survey found that only two per cent of nearly 8,500 Chinese people interviewed had even a basic knowledge of science and technology.
Scientific literacy is also fairly low in industrialised countries. A 2004 report by the US National Science foundation said that less than one-fifth of US citizens meet a "minimal standard" of scientific literacy.
Ren Dingcheng of Beijing University's Research Center for Social Science, who helped produce the plan, says that implementing it could radically transform China into a strong nation, rich in human resources.
The four key groups to be targeted are children, rural communities, urban workers, and government officials and civil servants.
Deng Nan, first secretary of the China Association for Science and Technology, told the Xinhua news agency that children and rural Chinese are the priorities.
"Our focus is to ignite children's curiosity about nature and inspire their interest in scientific concepts," she said.
Improving science literacy among the rural poor, said Deng, should not simply involve teaching basic facts, but also promote understanding of the scientific process.
Scientists will give lectures in schools, and students will visit research centres.
There will also be 'after work' events for adults in Chinese towns and cities.