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Curriculum failing STEM careers

Survey finds teachers believe practical lessons in science and maths classes are key to encouraging students to pursue STEM careers

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | December 08, 2016 | Secondary

With fears that schools aren’t encouraging enough students to pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM), MathWorks has completed research to find out if, and why, the national curriculum is not attracting young people to these subjects.

MathWorks’ survey of STEM teachers found 61% agree that the current curriculum is failing STEM careers, while just 1% strongly disagree. Given only 3% strongly agree that they are ‘well-consulted’ by the government on the current STEM curriculum, what might teachers do to improve it?

Of those questioned, 87% say STEM should be taught with more practical examples to bring the subject to life for students; slightly fewer, 82% also argue for greater creativity in lessons. These inclusions shouldn’t necessarily come at a detriment to traditional learning methods, such as multiplication tables, which 66% continue to support.

When asked about the role of the parent in STEM education, 63% of teachers argue that parents have a key role to play in the development of a student’s interest in a STEM career.

It’s time to go right back to the beginning, and enable young children to get hands-on so they can see that computing, maths and physics, for example, are very creative as well as technical

Indeed, when asked about the biggest influence on a student’s career choice, parental approval came out on top. When asked, ‘Do you agree that parents could do more to encourage students to pursue STEM careers?’ not one respondent disagreed, and when questioned whether greater parental collaboration with schools is needed, 76% concurred.

Additionally, 79% believe that students that spend time enjoying STEM-related extracurricular activities are more engaged with STEM subjects in the classroom. This is in accord with a recent survey of STEM professionals carried out by MathWorks, in which 60% said they fostered their love of their subject outside of the classroom, having enjoyed extra-curricular activities like the Science Museum with their families.

Also in parallel with the STEM professionals survey, 55% of teachers argue that students typically start taking an interest in career choices during Key Stage 3 or earlier.  This is, therefore, the best time to stimulate children to develop a love of STEM. 

Chris Hayhurst, consulting manager, MathWorks, said: “STEM industries are critical to driving growth in the UK economy and yet skills in these subjects are in desperately short supply.  Key to meeting the growing demand is inspiring the next generation of engineers, scientists and mathematicians. It’s time to go right back to the beginning, and enable young children to get hands-on so they can see that computing, maths and physics, for example, are very creative as well as technical. We need to engage them in fun applications of the subject to capture their imagination.  These early experiences are really important as they feed into the decisions children make about their own study paths.” 

“Parents, teachers and those in industry are all responsible for inspiring the next generation. Research shows a person’s early cultural references and values affect their attitudes to a subject. If we provide positive experiences and forge deeper connections, we can change attitudes towards STEM in the long term.” 

uk.mathworks.com

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