C. Vasconcelos, A. Cardoso, J. Faria, T. Ribeiro, M. Ribeiro

Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto (PORTUGAL)
As life expectancy increased during the 20th and 21st centuries, we face a time with no precedents, where both the percentage of older people and the length of life increase throughout the world. Given the demographic, social, scientific and technological changes populations are facing, it is mandatory to rethink education as a lifelong learning process. Resembling so many other European countries, in Portugal there is a growing number of Senior Universities that intend to respond to the demand that has intensified in recent years. In this context, older citizens seek Senior Universities to learn, to socialize and to maintain an active life, even after retirement. Despite the efforts of these institutions to promote a wide range of activities, there is a small number of scientific related courses. The promotion and development of scientific literacy are key aspects in order to guarantee that senior citizens remain informed and aware of the scientific and technological progress. However, there are several studies that show the low level of scientific literacy amongst Portuguese citizens of all ages.

To study the conceptions (or misconceptions) of senior citizens related to Earth Sciences, in particular, the Earth's internal structure and magnetic field, a survey was developed and validated by a panel of experts. The instrument consisted of three questions, divided into two parts: i) in the first one, participants were asked to draw and label a scheme that portrayed what would constitute the inside of our planet, from their point of view; ii) in part two, two multiple-choice questions were given (Q1 and Q2), concerning the earth's magnetic field. The sample of this study consists of 54 individuals, with ages ranging from 53 to 95 years, and an average age of 71 years. Most of respondents were woman (n=48; 88,9%) and only 6 (11,1%) were male. The questionnaire was applied at two senior universities in the northern region of Portugal and was answered on a voluntary basis.

The participants showed great misconceptions about the earth’s internal structure. Only 18.5% of the respondents represented the interior of the Earth divided into concentric layers, while the majority (53.7%) admitted that the planet contained no rocks in its interior. Additionally, 13.0% of the volunteers represented the interior of the Earth with elements that exist only on its surface (houses, vegetation, ...). The results were more positive regarding the earth’s magnetic field were 90,7 % of respondents knew that the earth’s magnetic field interferes with the migration of some animals, but 64,8% neglect to know how the magnetic field influences the compass. In addition, the Pearson correlation test showed that there are no significant correlations between the educational qualifications of participants and the answers given to Q1 (r=0,108; p=0,437) or to Q2 (r=-0,056; p=0,689).

This study illustrated the scientific illiteracy of senior citizens regarding geological knowledge, which could be an indication that Senior Universities would benefit from a greater investment in teaching Earth Sciences related courses. Ultimately, by developing studies that address the scientific literacy of senior citizens we are encouraging senior institutions to provide more science related courses and activities, which will result in a more inclusive education that will meet the needs and expectations of these longlife learners.