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The role of the teacher in shaping the future of the world

While women account for just 9% of engineering and technology employees, teachers are ideally placed to empower change, say WIRED

Posted by Julian Owen | October 14, 2017 | Secondary

"What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a common and seemingly innocuous question often asked of 11 and 12-year-olds by adults. Yet, when delving deeper beneath the surface, it really translates to, “What do the grown-ups around you do? And which one do you want to be most like?”

This question wouldn’t be so complex if every child had access to, and understood, numerous career paths. 

Their exposure to different ideas will essentially be the key to how quickly their decision-making buds and how soon they will build an understanding of who they are as an individual.

However, most school-aged children have limited direct access to working adults and rely primarily on what they see in their daily lives. In many instances, this can result in success – imagine a son or daughter carrying on their family’s legacy in business, education, the military or technology. Unfortunately, not all legacies are created equally and maintaining a child’s limited exposure to varied role models can also prolong certain negative workforce imbalances.

Shattering the STEM skills gap and gender imbalance

The employment rate for women has grown in the last few years to 69% in the UK; however, women still only account for 9% of all engineering and technology employees. Where is that gap and how are we bridging it?

It turns out that bridge starts with the teaching staff itself.

Most recently, it was reported that while a third of male teachers were more likely to see STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers as better suited to boys than girls, only 16% of female teachers agreed. In the same study, which involved 1,401 secondary teachers and 1,063 pupils aged 14 to 18, a third of the female teachers stated they were “not at all confident” in their understanding of STEM careers

What does that mean for the 61% of pupils who believe teachers are “influential in helping them decide their next step after secondary schools”, and how can we change this mentality in schools?

A common misconception for teachers is that they have to be an expert in STEM in order to tell kids about it. However, the most important thing they can provide students is the right access to those who can explain career options in STEM and how it is used in real life.

The best way for teachers to expose their pupils to careers in STEM is – simply put – to get exposure for themselves. This includes learning about career days, working with trade associations, and taking their kids on field days to places where the students can discover their career pathway.

For those teachers who can’t travel or are limited to a specific region, subscribing to any of the numerous free online publications and newsletters dedicated to science and technology education means there’s no shortage of knowledge or inspiration. 

It’s also a great way for teachers to learn about modern individuals who have taken their STEM education to an outside-the-box career path – and showcase them to their classes.

In recent years, government agencies have launched core initiatives in researching the potential of interplanetary colonisation, employing bright minds such as medical doctor and scientist Beth Healey, who spent months researching human health in extreme environments to prepare us for space travel and life on other planets.

Teachers have proved how big an impact they can make on a child’s life, but it is critical to understand that their potential to change the dynamics of the world is not too far-fetched either. 

By changing “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to celebrating “what you could be” instead, teachers can empower their students to connect the dots of their own future. 

That empowerment, confidence and support is the real key to changing the future of the world. 

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