The IET commissioned CHILDWISE to explore the attitudes and feelings six to 15-year-olds have towards engineering and technology, focusing on STEM education and, consequently, how children, parents and teachers feel about engineering and technological careers.
The research concluded that children’s love for STEM subjects is on the decline, with interest in Science amongst nine to 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.
The report shows a clear gender divide with girls being less enthusiastic about STEM subjects. Although maths was polled as the favourite subject for both girls and boys, overall girls are keener on creative subjects such as English (38 per cent) and Art (56 per cent). Following this, only 13 per cent of girls would consider an engineering job. This highlights the need for more role models to be readily available to encourage young girls at an impressionable age. Whether this is through teachers, parents or real-life engineers.
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% 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.”
Gender stereotyping could be seen with parents mirroring their children’s views. Both agreed girls would rather a career in Arts, Education and Childcare, Healthcare and Hair and Beauty, whereas boys would prefer to go into Technology, Information Technology, Engineering and Sport.
A clear gap in knowledge shows that children would benefit if their parents and teachers had a better understanding of what an engineer does and the career paths available. One in five parents admitted that they would not feel confident in being able to support their child if they asked for advice about jobs in engineering or technology.
Teachers agreed that the most challenging part of engaging pupils with STEM subjects is the time pressures of having to teach a full curriculum (72 per cent of primary and 63 per cent of secondary teachers). Other key issues that need to be combatted are poor resources with 57 per cent of primary school teachers agreeing this was an issue. Class distractions (42 per cent) and a lack of pupil interest (42 per cent) are the biggest difficulties for secondary school teachers.
Despite a decline in interest of the crucial engineering and technology-related subjects, there is a clear improvement amongst six to 15-year-olds perception of what an engineer is. More than half of the children described engineering as skilled and around two in five think engineering is interesting, difficult, creative or important as we see words such as messy and dirty decline.
The full report, Inspiring the Next generation of Engineers, can be found on the IET’s Engineer a Better World website.