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Press release

83% of UK parents unable to answer basic school-level ’science’ questions

04 November 2015


British parents are failing to answer some of their children’s most basic school-level ‘science’ questions, according to a new study released today.

The research, conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to celebrate Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, has found that 83% of UK mums and dads have been unable to answer questions from their kids about science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) subjects.

In fact, it has emerged that parents of children between the ages of four and 12 are suffering from real embarrassment and resorting to telling their children white lies. When it comes to answering their tricky questions about STEM, almost two thirds (63%) of parents said that they have given their inquisitive child an incorrect answer instead of admitting that they don’t know the answer. In addition, a similar number (61%) actually fear being asked a difficult question by their child – resulting in them avoiding giving answers, which could be having a detrimental impact on their child’s education. 

According to the research, more than one in ten (12%)* of those who have faced simple scientific questions that they can’t answer, simply pass the buck to the other parent – telling their child to ask their mum or dad instead. What’s more, 59% of parents admitted that their child knows more than they do about technical subjects like engineering and technology.

From North to South, British parents have all experienced reluctance when it comes to their children’s questions, though some more than others. Despite being the UK’s capital, London’s parents are in fact the least informed about scientific subjects, with nearly all (93%) admitting they’ve been asked a question by their child related to STEM that they haven’t known the answer to. Britain’s brightest sparks, by contrast, live in Nottingham where only 72% of parents – significantly lower than the rest of the population – have had uncertainties.

As a result, the IET has set up its #AskTheEngineers** initiative for parents to put their children’s questions to a panel of engineering experts. The #AskTheEngineers initiative is being held in partnership with Mumsnet as part of the IET’s wider Engineer a Better World campaign.

Naomi Climer, IET President, said: “We commissioned this research to celebrate Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. The findings have given us some interesting insight into how poorly equipped UK parents are when it comes to tackling their child’s often tricky questions relating to STEM subjects. That’s why we’re holding our very first #AskTheEngineers live Twitter Q&A with Mumsnet, giving parents the answers they need – and, at the same time, helping them to inspire and nurture their child’s interest in STEM subjects.

“The IET’s #AskTheEngineers initiative is part of wider campaign called Engineer a Better World, which was launched earlier this year. The campaign is all about encouraging more young people – particularly girls – to consider engineering as a potential career option in the future. By engaging with parents and children through the campaign, we hope we can build the engineering workforce of the future – enabling the UK to remain a world leader in engineering and technology.”

Media enquiries to:

Robert Beahan
External Communications Manager

Tel: +44 (0)1438 767336
Mob: +44 (0)7595 400912
Email: rbeahan@theiet.org

Notes to editors:

  • About the research:

  • The research was commissioned by IET and carried out by Censuswide with a sample of 1002 parents with children aged 4-12.

  • *20/174x100=11.49%
    Based on the 47% of parents who have given their child/children an embarrassing response, 11.5% responded to a kid’s question, 'ask your mum/dad'.

  • **#AsktheEngineers is a live Q&A session with an expert panel of engineers taking place on Wednesday 4 November 2015 at 13:00pm on Twitter. Join in the conversation via @MumsnetBloggers and @TheIET and get involved with engineering.

  • For more information on #AskTheEngineers, in partnership with Mumsnet, visit http://www.mumsnet.com/bloggers/join-us-for-a-twitter-party-with-iet
  • For more information about the IET’s Engineer a Better World Campaign, visit www.engineer-a-better-world.org
  • For more information on Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, running from 2-5 November 2015, visit http://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/
  • About the IET:

  • Interview opportunities are available with IET spokespeople from a broad range of engineering and technology disciplines including cyber-security, energy, engineering skills, innovation, manufacturing, technology, transport and women in engineering.

  • The IET is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions with over 163,000 members in 127 countries. It is also the most interdisciplinary – to reflect the increasingly diverse nature of engineering in the 21st century. Energy, transport, manufacturing, information and communications, and the built environment: the IET covers them all.

  • The IET is working to engineer a better world by inspiring, informing and influencing our members, engineers and technicians, and all those who are touched by, or touch, the work of engineers.