6 March 2020
There are well over 600 organisations involved in STEM education, covering all age ranges but with the greatest focus on 11-14 year olds. Yet the STEM skills gap is growing with a reported need of over 170,000 extra skilled workers increasing year-by-year at a cost of over £1.5bn per year to the UK economy. And the need for such roles is likely to double over the next decade.
With so much effort from businesses, enrichment organisations or charities and government, why are we not improving the situation? Why is the ethnic and gender split of those choosing STEM subjects still so similar to what it was 20 years ago?
There are many reasons – take your pick from:
The most common type of activity is talks or presentations then curricula-related resources, competitions and activities. Of course, all of this helps. Much is very good, and some is excellent.
So, the problem is not quantity – it is effectiveness. How do we get a bigger bang for the many, many millions of £££ bucks spent on STEM education?
The problem comes from the narrow focus of too much of these efforts. A young person is only partly influenced by what they experience in the classroom. Yes, brilliant teaching can inspire, just as poor teaching can turn a child off a STEM future. But we need to take greater account of the wider influences on a young student.
The best way to look at this is through the window of Science Capital, developed under the leadership of Professor Louise Archer with University College London, King’s College London, the Science Museum and BP.
Science Capital is a concept that explains patterns in science participation – why some people engage with science and others do not. It helps explain why particular social groups are underrepresented in science study and why they think they are ‘not science people’.
It looks not just at the science knowledge young people gain through lessons in schools, but at the bigger picture of influences, attitudes and experiences they acquire which shape their views. It explains how an individual’s Science Capital is made up of:
Everyone (including teachers) has differing amounts of Science Capital and that effects whether they think ‘science is for me’ or ‘no thanks’.
BP has taken this thinking onboard within their Educational Service, developing their strategy to not just educate about STEM, but to develop Science Capital more widely amongst young people and educators. For example:
We have been proud to support a wide variety of organisations to move forward effectively in STEM education. Not only leading the BP Educational Service into a Science Capital future but also working with Pfizer, Motorola Solutions, Tomorrow’s Engineers, the IET, Rolls Royce and many more aiming to make a difference.
So, what can you do with your own STEM interventions? From our experience, we would suggest 3 areas of focus: