How businesses can support STEM education
Earlier this year, the Project ENTHUSE partnership published a report that aimed to encourage companies of all sizes to support science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in schools.
The report was based on research undertaken by EdComs. We have over 20 years’ experience of helping organisations develop great educational resources and activities, particularly in areas related to STEM: we are regularly contacted by businesses that want to do something in this field but don’t know what to do or how to go about it.
We know there’s a need. Engineering UK reports that 182,000 new employees with engineering skills are needed every year; but we also know that, while 70% of young people like science and maths, only 17% think it’s ‘for them’. At the same time, only a third of teachers—the vast majority of whom are not specialists—feel confident advising on careers in this area.
EdComs’ research identified two areas where businesses can have a particular impact: helping to ‘level the playing field’ for young people who have very limited experience of STEM in their everyday lives; and building teachers’ knowledge and confidence so that they can offer more engaging and relevant lessons.
In November EdComs gathered a small group of businesses and other organisations active in this field to discuss their experiences and how they have made a difference. Here are some of the points that emerged.
Teachers are vital…and keen
The Project ENTHUSE partnership has identified teachers as key to achieving its vision of a world-leading STEM education for all. There is a massive appetite among teachers for high-quality support in this area. In 2015-16 alone, Project ENTHUSE provided face-to-face and online CPD for nearly 13,000 teachers and technicians, and supported 38 partnerships involving 248 schools and colleges.
In this way, the partnership has reached up to 1.1m young people across the UK and has had measurable impact. One teacher whose teaching was transformed by his participation reported that awareness of STEM careers among his students had increased from below 30% to over 80%, or even higher among the older year groups.
‘Science capital’ is the place to focus
There is growing evidence that interactions between school students and employers make a difference to their job prospects and earning power. At the same time, research from King’s College demonstrates the role that ‘science capital’ plays in the extent to which young people see STEM as relevant to them.
BP, which has been working in this area since the 1960s, takes an holistic approach, providing great resources, engaging in strategic partnerships to drive change and awareness, and supporting its employees to volunteer in schools.
IBM focuses on wider STEM literacy as well as encouraging young people to pursue STEM careers. It regularly employs people who have first encountered the company through a STEM-related school activity. It is also launching innovative new products to support Key Stage 2 maths teachers, based on its research.
Increasing science capital means reaching families too
A new-found enthusiasm for STEM will be quickly undermined if it is met at home by indifference or simply a lack of understanding. EdComs works with clients to design resources and activities that engage parents and carers as well as young people. It might be as simple as inviting them to a project presentation or the final round of a competition; or having resources or activities that can be used at home. Using the students themselves as ‘ambassadors’ and experts can be a particularly powerful approach.
We need to capture the imagination
Many young people don’t think STEM is relevant to them as individuals or attractive as a career. But focusing on creativity, innovation and the value that STEM brings to humanity can provide a powerful hook.
Start from what schools need…
Businesses like BP and IBM understand that not every school or teacher is going to prioritise STEM-related learning, but they do all want to do the best for their pupils. It’s vital to really understand the issues faced by the schools and children and to work to address their needs, preferably for a sustained period of time.
…and what the business is trying to achieve
We know that working with young children can have the most impact educationally, and that ages 10–14 is when young people ‘switch off’ from STEM. But businesses themselves have to decide what’s practical, authentic and relevant for them and to think about their own objectives and what will resonate internally.
The benefits of STEM engagement programmes are well-documented and extend beyond young people and schools to the businesses involved. STEM Learning is about to publish research on its STEM Ambassadors scheme which shows that through the scheme, the Ambassadors themselves develop confidence, professional skills, management skills, motivation and new enthusiasm for their jobs. BP is making a direct link between school engagement and leadership development.
An increasing number of businesses are getting involved in STEM education, recognising just how critical it is to their current and future success. Luckily, they have access not only to a growing body evidence on the subject, but also to a wealth of experience of what works and how to ensure the maximum impact.