Children’s love for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) is on the decline, with interest in Science amongst 9-12-year-olds falling 10 per cent, Design and Technology down 12 per cent and ICT / Computing falling furthest at 14 per cent over the last four years, new research uncovers.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) poll, which also surveyed primary and secondary teachers’ perceptions of STEM education, also found that time pressures of having to teach the full curriculum was the biggest obstacle in engaging pupils in STEM subjects (72 per cent of primary and 63 per cent of secondary teachers) which could be linked to the decline.
More than half of primary school teachers (57 per cent) also reported poor resources as a factor, whereas class distractions (42 per cent) and a lack of pupil interest (42 per cent) provide the biggest difficulties for secondary teachers.
The gender divide among children also presents an issue. Amongst 6-15-year olds Maths tops the poll as girls’ and boys’ favourite subject (more than 2 in 5), girls enjoy Art (56 per cent) and English (38 per cent) the most, whereas boys are most interested in Maths (49 per cent) and ICT (46 per cent).
This poses fresh concern for the future of careers in STEM fields, such as engineering and technology, where reliance on Physics still remains a key requirement, and what more can be done to support the education system in bolstering children’s interests in these fields.
David Lakin, IET Head of Education, said: “After parents, teachers are the next major influence of children, especially at primary age, where the presence of an inspirational teacher can set up patterns for life. It’s crucial schools engage children in STEM at a young age but we’ve discovered a lack of resource and mounting time pressures present huge difficulties in achieving this. It is concerning to see a 10 per cent drop in children’s interests in Science and one we have to turn around if we are to secure the next generation of engineers and technologists.”
It seems however that perceptions of engineering and technology careers are on the up with more than half of children describing engineering as skilled, followed by around two in five who think they are interesting, difficult, creative or important with words such as messy and dirty on the decline.
When looking at children’s career aspirations girls are more interested in the Arts, Education and Childcare, Healthcare, Hair and Beauty and Agriculture (including animal care), whilst boys are much more interested in Information Technology, Engineering, Technology, Sport, Construction and Property and Public Services.
Engineering features in third place overall, but only one in seven girls themselves would consider an engineering job (13 per cent), whilst technology is in the fourth slot, with only one in nine girls considering a career in this area (11 per cent).
Parents mirror their children’s views on their perception of engineering and technology careers, however, there is still a gap in knowledge with more than one in five parents feeling unable to support their child should they ask for advice about careers in this field.
When parents think about their child’s career, very clear gender stereotypes emerge. Parents of girls think they would be most interested in the Arts, Education and Childcare, Healthcare and Hair and Beauty, whilst parents of boys think they would most like to go into Technology, Information Technology, Engineering, and Sport.
David continues: “Art and design play a huge role in engineering careers and its important we emphasise these aspects amongst parents, teachers and pupils alike to widen appeal.
“The research shows that parents of girls are still less likely to nurture their interests in engineering careers than parents of boys. However, with the perceptions of engineering and technology improving and a willingness from parents and teachers alike to support and engage children with STEM given the right guidance and tools, now is the time to bolster our efforts to ensure more young people reap the benefits.”
The full report, Inspiring the Next generation of Engineers, can be found on the IET’s Engineer a Better World website under ‘Find out more’.
Notes to editor
About the research
The IET commissioned CHILDWISE to explore what factors inform parents’ and children’s opinions of engineering and technology as potential career areas. The report also looked at what might be preventing parents from more actively promoting these careers, and what might encourage them to do so.
Building on research in 2015 which focused on 9 to 12-year-olds and their parents, CHILDWISE conducted research across April to June 2019, with boys and girls aged 6 to 15, their parents, and STEM teachers of children this age. This consisted of in-depth interviews across England, involving 16 children, 15 parents, and six teachers, followed by an online survey across the UK, with over 1,000 children and their parents, and almost 150 STEM teachers.
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