On July 11, 2013 Elizabeth Truss, UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education (H/T Nassif Ghoussoub’s Piece of Mind), spoke at an International Student Science Fair and cited Alberta’s science education and high performance, along with Singapore’s, in her speech,
So at primary, we want children to get a really solid foundation in the basics of scientific knowledge and language, backed up by more and higher quality practical work and experiments – building on the approaches to science education in high-performing jurisdictions like Singapore and Alberta.
Obviously, Truss is making a case for science and technology education as preparation for the future in a speech that amongst other things emphasizes “non-artificial intelligence,”
As the future comes hurtling towards us, the most important resource any country can boast is not physical, nor technological – but human.
Every leap forward, every flash of insight, relies not on infrastructure, capital or regulatory regimes – important as they are.
But on people. On their brains, their knowledge and their determination to succeed.
On the schoolchildren and students of today – the innovators of tomorrow.
We don’t know yet precisely what skills will be needed in the future.
But as technology transforms the working world – and jobs polarise between the low-skilled and the very high-skilled, highly-educated – we know that the value of high-level skills is growing.
The 21st century will need people who are equally comfortable manipulating numbers, words and lines of computer code; who have the skills and the knowledge to understand both foreign languages and mathematical equations. Rounded individuals who can analyse and think logically, who have mastered both arts and sciences.
Never mind Bitcoin, education is the currency of the future.
International evidence has proved that countries with successful education systems grow more quickly.
Given Truss is speaking at an International Student(s) Science Fair (this is the only site [ ISSF 2012] that seemed to fit the description), it does seem like she’s speaking to the ‘converted’. Students at an international science fair have shown a fair degree of interest and commitment and this speech while inspiring doesn’t address one of the major problems described in a rather interesting UK research project on children’s science attitudes. From my Jan. 31, 2012 posting,
One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),
Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.
“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.
Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]
In that 2012 posting, I also featured a US project where researchers developed an intervention for stimulating more adolescent interest in science and technology studies by focusing on the adolescent students’ parents.
Both the UK’s ASPIRES project and the US project suggest getting children to pursue education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has more to do with family and social culture than is often recognized.
Adding a somewhat ironic wrinkle to this discussion is a finding from a study by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy program that 20% of all jobs in the US—not 4%-5% of jobs as claimed by the US National Science Foundation—could be described as STEM jobs. From the June 10, 2013 article for Fast Company by Ariel Schwartz,
…, STEM jobs aren’t limited to workers with advanced degrees–50% don’t even require a bachelor’s degree. Many of the more blue-collar STEM jobs are in fields like construction, plant and system operation, and repair (telecommunications equipment, aircraft, computer, office machine, etc.).
The irony is that family members who think that science careers are for other ‘smart and exceptional’ people may themselves have a STEM-based job/career. You can find the Brookings Institute report here. It should be noted this report The Hidden STEM Economy) has a unique definition of STEM, from the Schwartz article,
The Institute explains in a press release: “Previous studies classified workers as STEM only if they worked in a small number of professional occupations, but the Brookings definition classifies occupations according to the level of knowledge in STEM fields that workers need to perform their jobs. As a result, many nonprofessional jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, and mining industries could be considered STEM jobs.”
Take for example, car mechanics. Today’s mechanics need to know about computers and fairly complex electronics, such as lithium-ion batteries, in addition to standard mechanics. (BTW, In the late 1980s, I had a coop student job at a school board where even then they trying to integrate electronics and information technology into their trades education programmes.)
If you have the time, I do recommend reading Truss’s speech (by following either the link to Nassif’s website or the direct link to the speech) and/or Schwartz’s article.