By Jasper Eddison, 15, UK young correspondent
Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Personally, I take great interest in all four categories included in STEM, but why? And why is there such a lack of graduates in the European Union for STEM subjects, when unemployment for graduates is so high in other fields?
An innate passion for STEM
I don’t believe that people who generally enter STEM careers are born with an innate passion for the subjects. However, I do think humans could be born with a curious and inquisitive mindset, a catalyst for an interest in STEM. Without this eagerness for problem solving and understanding of the world around us, I think it is impossible to be truly engaged with a STEM subject, and therefore unwise to subsequently follow a STEM career. So, whilst we are born with a natural instinct to comprehend the world around us, I believe our nurture in the early years of our life play an equally important role.
Nurture in our early years
As science tells us, the human brain is most malleable in our first few years. Children spend most of their time playing and this is another key aspect that I believe contributes to a STEM identity. In an increasingly digital world, I think the youth are playing video-games and watching programmes much more than previous years, taking time away from games involving imagination and creativity. In my opinion, a strong imagination leads to increasing curiosity, so by taking creative time away from children’s play-time they become less interested in STEM subjects in later life. One aspect of my childhood which seems to have increased my interest in especially technology and engineering is my fascination with construction games, such as Lego, K-Nex and Airfix. Instead of these original games, children seem more fascinated by online games, one of which is Minecraft, which in my view do encourage creativity, but could be much more engaging with the incorporation of simple science and, perhaps, computer technology.
STEM at home and elsewhere
Additionally, throughout childhood, STEM-related projects have inspired me in the field of engineering and technology. From making wooden pinball machines and go-carts, to Stirling engines and complete bikes, major projects in which I have been able to get fully enveloped in, have undoubtedly kept me keen in STEM. However, none of these builds would have been possible without the support of equally enthusiastic parents. Furthermore, being able to attend engineering specific courses, such as from the Small Piece Trust, has allowed me to increase my knowledge and understanding of the roles within engineering. However, I am aware not all children have these equal opportunities and support in exploring their interest in STEM, so this lack of provision for some can lead to a disassociation with STEM subjects, before even considering them.
Where’s STEM in primary school?
Whilst I was engaging whit STEM in a home environment, it seemed strangely absent during primary school. Whilst the main core subjects of Maths and English were understandably prioritised, I feel there was a lack of variety of alternate lessons, including the other STEM subjects, that were truly encouraged or even offered. Apart from growing plants in a cupboard and making motorised carousels in the last week of Primary school, I cannot remember any other opportunities the school offered in scientific or technological fields. These experiments did not grab anyone’s attention for being severely interesting, which strikes me as a major flaw for STEM careers. Whilst Primary school is obviously a long time away from choosing a career, I do believe this time is pivotal, because I see STEM subjects as being the sort of subjects you have to strive to explore, rather than ones anyone can settle into, if you’re dry of alternatives.
Science in senior school – faring much better?
In my view, senior school education appears to further discourage teenagers from STEM subjects. Science is taught with exams too much the focus, taking inspiration away from the fun side of science. The syllabus, which is often stuck to strictly, lacks a ‘wow’ factor that many children desire through science. Exciting and engaging experiments are rare, restricted by many health and safety regulations, and also time, in the school day. Whilst maintaining an interest for science throughout school, I do feel my enthusiasm has faltered slightly. Another possible reason for possible STEM enthusiasts to feel less engaged with the subjects is because they feel bored in classes. Whilst the syllabus has to be covered, year groups that are not in science and maths sets could feel held back and unstimulated by the course material. Even in those sets, those who want to, and are able to, can excel in the field and perhaps expand upon the syllabus, with more motivating and inspiring content.
Creating my STEM identity
From my point of view, my interest in STEM has developed from a natural inquisitiveness, coupled with opportunities to explore and engage in early STEM activities. However, whilst I see myself a STEM enthusiast, I have been considering non-STEM related careers, partly due to some of the reasons talked about. Unfortunately, in my view, school teaching of some STEM subjects, whilst interesting and fun, is not sufficiently inspiring for enough of the youth to pursue a career in the fields. Additionally, I believe that many more people would be interested and engaging with STEM if they were given the opportunity and encouragement to, but this is lacking in the current education system in the UK. STEM is essential to our society, and therefore we need a diverse and strong workforce to improve and maintain the civilization we live in today.