Science education key to public technological understanding

By Breanne Brammer

DES MOINES, Iowa — Science education is key to societal understanding and acceptance of technology according Michelle Gowdy, director of community and academic relations for DuPont Pioneer.

Gowdy said many of the conversations with GMOs come back to a central issue: are people science literate?

“If our population does not have a general understanding of science it puts us at risk in many aspects of our lives,” Gowdy said. “What we don’t understand we fear.”

DuPont Pioneer began supporting agriculture science education curriculum in 2012. Within four years Pioneer has provided 500 grants to high schools nationwide.

Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education grants range from $2,500 to $5,000, and provide teacher training, equipment, materials and end-of-course assessment to programs. According to the website, the goal is to position students to help end world hunger.

“What we need today is more people engaged in the science of agriculture,” Gowdy said. “We need more agronomists, communicators, legal and financial persons that have an understanding of agriculture.”

Gowdy said education is fundamental to understanding science especially when you talk about difficult issues like GMOs, she said. Science education can help bridge the gap.

For example, when it comes to addressing anti-GMO supporters, we should be having conversations instead of combat campaigns, Gowdy said. Science and technology have a profound influence in our lives and without it we would lack many comforts.

But these comforts come with a cost. While large companies are often criticized, Gowdy said that economies of scale are important for achievement. She said research and development is very expensive and investments have to continue in order, for example, to produce better hybrid seeds.

Technological innovation has led to DuPont Pioneer to invest in projects abroad. The company has engaged with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to aid technological advances in Africa. A current project focuses on producing more nutritious sorghum, a staple African crop.

The sorghum variety has higher Vitamin A content, more beta-carotene and stays fresher longer. It is currently undergoing field trials in Nigeria, but there are years of regulatory process ahead, she said.

Within her role, Gowdy has traveled throughout Africa and witnessed the hardships of living without scientific innovation.

“People may hold up a picket sign in Des Moines, Iowa to say ‘we oppose GMOs,’” Gowdy said. “But, a mother in Sub-Saharan Africa just wants to feed her children.”

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