Earlier this year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) report, Building Skills For All: A Review of England, revealed that English teenagers aged 16 to 19, rank 22nd in a list of 23 developed nations for numeracy skills. It also highlighted that less than one in ten students leave secondary school with an A-level in maths and physics. Geoff Millington, managing director at PrimarySite Limited, believes that when it comes to engaging children in STEM, starting early is key. Here, he shares some top tips on what schools can do to encourage the update of STEM subjects among students.
Without doubt, we are facing a skills crisis, which is only predicted to get worse over the coming years. To effectively counteract this crisis we need to address the problems right now, and we need to start with primary schools.
Traditionally, encouraging the uptake of STEM subjects among students has proved to be challenging. Fortunately, however, there are a number of things that can help…
Tech for everyone; no excuses!
Technology shouldn’t be seen as a subject to be explored only by a select, technically-minded few. It should be presented as accessible to all students, and a subject they can become competent in really easily! In fact, the majority of today’s students are quite digitally-minded and naturally gravitate towards technology. However, the minute it’s presented as a subject they’ll be examined on, some begin to doubt their capabilities and shy away from it. The more teachers can integrate technology learning with real-life, everyday examples, in all subject areas the more it will resonate with students. For example, teachers can easily introduce the use of tables and simple formulas in Excel to maths classes, or art teachers can recommend using online drawing apps for a creative and fun twist.
Dismissing the subject before giving it a real chance shouldn’t be an option for students – and this is something schools need to reinforce.
It is widely recognised that unless you are working with parents and carers early on in a child’s life to establish confidence in their knowledge and capabilities, particularly surrounding STEM subjects, insecurities and doubt can be transferred to and learned by children. It’s important for schools to support parents and carers so they can reinforce this learning at home.
Some of the schools we work with run regular evening workshops for parents. For example, they host sessions on using technology to support learning, where both schools and parents are really reaping the benefits.
Businesses on board
Schools need to be working closely with businesses to ensure the students coming through the education system have the skills that future employers require. Schools should reach out to local businesses in the area, to arrange mock visits or talks with students; showing exactly how technology is used in the workplace and what will be required from them in certain job roles. Potential employers can offer a different perspective that schools may not have contemplated before.
Make their dream job a reality
More often than not, even young pupils will have an idea of their ‘dream career’. While most will be aware that some careers very obviously require STEM knowledge, they may not know that even the more traditional, creative or craft careers, will also need it. Once they share their preferred career choices, you can then let them know how STEM will come into the role. You just have to start with their preferred career, and work backwards. You also need to think ahead, what careers don’t even exist yet that your primary aged pupils may one day be a part of.
In order to address the predicted STEM skills shortage of the future, we have to act now. Engaging students in STEM as early as possible is key, and schools are the perfect places to start.
Geoff Millington is the founder and owner of PrimarySite Limited, the UK’s largest provider of websites to primary schools and academies. Before founding the company in 2004, Geoff was a primary school teacher himself in Nottinghamshire. He received his PGCE from University of Birmingham after graduating in Economics at Leicester.