How do we inspire the next generation in STEM? | Tamanna Jithesh

“What do you want to be when you’re older?”

Last week, I asked this question to a class of 30 eager Year 4 students.

“Professional footballer! Dancer! Fireman! Teacher!”

The replies were numerous and varied – but one thing was obvious. Not one student mentioned any job in the STEM sector; I find this worrying.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is essential in every aspect of our lives. It empowers us with methods to innovate our future. Our society is constantly changing and it is more vital now than ever that students are equipped with skills to address challenges and problems in order to create a world that is sustainable, and one that does not exploit our planet’s limited resources.

However, despite its importance, there is a distinct lack of engagement in this field from young children in the UK. This is a problem that needs to be addressed as STEM subjects are considered one of the accelerating forces for the future growth of the country’s economy in the 21st century.

I believe the most important place to start a child’s interest in STEM is through their primary role models – parents. It is not news that we are influenced greatly in our adult life by our childhood and by those who raised us. A child whose parents are themselves in STEM, or know about it, are far more likely to gain an interest themselves. The problem is a lack of information. It is essential that schools involve parents in their child’s education from the start and increase their knowledge of the sector so that, in turn, they can inspire their own children.

Primary education shouldn’t stop there. Hands-on learning is vital in showing how exciting STEM can be. Simple classroom experiments, or taking part in programmes such as the CREST Discovery Award allows students to find a personal engagement with STEM as they create innovative solutions for real life problems. This is what STEM is all about.

When it comes to the GCSE specifications, they fail to teach students what I believe to be the most important part- real-life application. Teachers are usually pushed for time and simply rush to finish the syllabus in time for the June exams. This does nothing to engage nor inspire students into pursuing the STEM sector. Outreach programmes and summer schools are essential here, to take students beyond the curriculum and expand their understanding. I admit these programmes are abundant in London, but coming from a secondary school in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, opportunities to learn about STEM were far fewer, almost non-existent. It is important that students all across England receive the same chances to engage with STEM as those in London and other big cities.

I think this is where you, the reader, come in. We are lucky enough to be in London, in the centre of it all. We have a mission to increase young children’s engagement with STEM, for the future of humanity. Currently, exposure to these subjects are coming far too late in the education system and does not allow students to truly hone a passion for it. The main issue is that people simply don’t know enough about it. We need to spread the word of STEM, and the power of the word of mouth cannot be underestimated. I ask you to tell one person- younger, older, parent, sibling, anyone- about STEM and its importance in our future, and ask them to tell another person and so on. Hopefully, as chaos theory dictates, this will increase the number of people that know about it throughout the country. You will have done your part in ensuring the supply of STEM graduates meets future demand, so we can continue to innovate the world we live in.

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