The STEM commandments: Marija Butkovic

Charley Rogers talks to Women of Wearables’ Marija Butkovic about UK STEM provision, and what developments have been, and are yet to be made

What are the biggest issues in STEM education at present? 

Not getting enough girls to study STEM subjects, and also curricula that are quite old, not aligned with new jobs of today, and are not equipping students with the right skillsets. In general, the UK needs to significantly increase the number of people with engineering skills. In 2014, one report put the annual shortfall of STEM skills at 40,000, and as of 2015, the annual shortfall of the right engineering skills is 55,000. 

What is the biggest difference in STEM teaching now, compared to 10 or 20 years ago? 

I haven’t studied in the UK, but in Croatia I can honestly say that very little has changed in the last 10–20 years. There has been a lot of innovation in the tech world, including use of iPads and different interactive tools, introducing very practical and interactive methods of teaching STEM, like micro:bits in robotics, but this has to become standard and the norm for everyone, regardless of the budgets of the schools and potential sponsors. Croatia is still very much behind Western countries.

What are the most influential resources in addressing the issues in STEM education? 

There has been a lot of research and studies have been published by very influential companies and organisations like the WISE campaign, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, and the Women’s Engineering Society, which can help with identifying the key reasons behind low numbers of STEM students, especially women.  

Marija Butkovic

How have developments in edtech influenced the way STEM is taught?

In primary schools, focus should definitely be more on getting children interested in STEM, so they can get excited about STEM sciences and subjects. Later, when it’s time to choose the right university, hopefully the education they got early on gave them enough overview of what is out there in the STEM world, so when they do choose which way to go, there will be plenty of time for acquiring specific knowledge and skills. 

How do we balance equal-opportunity, comprehensive STEM education with the financial boundaries faced by schools? 

In order to bypass the gap that apparently exists when it comes to budgets and finance some schools are facing, I would say the key thing to do is to establish more partnerships with different organisations, sponsors, philanthropists and STEM enthusiasts who can then help schools with getting more equipment and assets for providing better STEM education. I’m very fond of Micro:bits Educational Foundation who so far put more than 1 million micro:bits in the hands of schoolchildren in the UK. 

Women of Wearables