Challenges such as climate change, food security and sustainability have led to a drive to encourage the next generation of young people into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The solutions to these challenges will be realised over decades of research and execution. The awareness and interest of young people is therefore needed to sustain the pipeline of talent into STEM.
According to Engineering UK research carried out in 2019, only 36% of 11-14 year olds in the UK say they know what to do next to become an engineer. This means they would be looking up to people in their sphere of influence for answers; teachers and parents and older friends and relatives. As a parent/guardian during the pandemic restrictions, you may have had to be more hands-on in the ‘formal’ education of your child or ward. If your children or wards are showing some interest in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, you may be feeling out of your depths, particularly if you are not in a STEM related profession. Not to worry though, you are not alone, as the research shows that only 32% of parents and 45% of STEM teachers feel confident in giving engineering careers advice.
Here are five tips to help you help the young people around you discover the wonders of STEM.
- Promote curiosity: Children are naturally curious and are quick to ask questions. Although it can be a bit tiresome to be faced with a barrage of questions, it is important to take advantage of those opportunities to promote the importance of STEM. Curiosity and out-of-the box thinking are one of the necessary skills for creating solutions to challenges and should be encouraged from a young age. Many times, these questions also provide a new point of view and challenge the status-quo.
- Practical Examples: We are surrounded with many practical applications of STEM. We could take use the motion of a car to explain the concept of speed and its relationship between distance and time. Whilst cooking, we can discuss how electricity can be used to make the blending process faster and easier using equipment such as the electric mixer.
- Learning time is bonding time: Do not be afraid to learn along with your child/ward. It is a good way to show them that no one knows it all and learning is an activity that goes on for the rest of your life. The internet is an excellent place to find information on any topic. You could pick an activity, video or book on any topic to work through. It is a great way to spend time together and bond.
- Research STEM professionals’ journeys: Apart from STEM topics, learning about STEM professionals’ career journeys is another learning opportunity. While you might not be in a STEM profession, you have probably come across a few names such as Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie. An internet search on the key players in different industries would give an insight into the challenges they faced specific to that industry and how they navigated these challenges. It may also be beneficial to reach out to your contacts who are studying for their STEM degrees or working in STEM careers to share their journeys.
- STEM Resources: There are a lot of resources online that could feed the interests which your kids have shown in form of activity worksheets, YouTube videos, simulation games, coding projects, hands on projects etc. There are organisations that put together programmes, webinars, internships or even job shadowing opportunities. These are useful resources that could help young people see the utility in STEM careers.
According to the 2019 survey, when asked how much they know about what engineers do, 46% of 11-14 year old stated they know “only a little” or almost nothing. I hope that as you implement these tips, it helps increase our knowledge and spark some curiosity in our budding STEM professionals.