Planting Roots for STEM Subjects

It is safe to assert that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects have received heightened attention in recent years. This area of academia has been brought to the fore by key educational figures and institutions alike, as the trend in studying humanities and arts subjects was seen to threaten the value of left-brain qualities and, through this, economic growth. More than two years ago now, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee found that the Government's Plan for Growth in the economy relied directly on education and hi-tech industries, and that immediate action was needed to produce higher calibre graduates in these fields. Cue the crusade to reinvest in STEM subjects.

Last November, for example, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan established the "Your Life" campaign with the aim of increasing the number of UK teenagers opting to study maths and science by 50% within three years. According to Morgan, STEM subjects are far more useful in securing a wider range of jobs than the humanities and arts. Her comments generated criticism, with the sentiment in the offended camp being that "downgrading the arts is the wrong message" - a valid point indeed. In addition to this general issue of uptake, there is the blinding discrepancy between genders in STEM education and employment: only 13% of the UK's STEM workforce are female. Cue initiatives such as the Stemettes, a group of women whose mission is "to inspire the next generation of females into STEM fields by showing them the amazing women already in STEM via a series of panel events, hackathons, exhibitions and mentoring schemes." 

Ideally, we would not get to the state where one half (to be vague) of the academic world is underwhelmed and undersubscribed to the point of threatening large parts of our country's workforce, potentially impacting future economic growth. Educational choices at ground level are highly determined by the status quo; students who may be naturally inclined to do well at science and mathematics may not be encouraged to pursue this line of study or perhaps do not receive adequate tuition in these fields (this touches on related and timely issue regarding the quality of maths-based teaching in the UK). It could also be that, as mentioned above, many students feel STEM is too narrow a field to commit to when considering career opportunities, in which case Morgan's attempts to dis-spell these fears are well-founded but perhaps ill-described.

It remains to be seen how the numerous initiatives to promote studies and careers in STEM fare, but one can only hope that such heightened visibility of these industries attracts the people who may otherwise not have been aware of the opportunities at hand. Perhaps our growing reliance on and familiarity with technology in everyday life, coupled with the introduction of coding within the school curriculum, will contribute to these initiatives and ensure STEM gains attention for more than being lacking, its merits truly realised and the balance restored.