This was stated at an International Women’s Forum (IWF) meeting today and it’s right. One has only to judge by the rich debate that followed and the number of related issues brought to the table not all of them gender related. Included in Technology we mean all STEM subjects. It is these that will bring about the greatest leaps in discovery moving forward. However it is true girls are massively under represented in STEM subjects.
So we do have the gender issue. Girls studying Physics at school are seriously in the minority see an article in the TES last week. It should not be perceived as a male subject nor as too hard. Industry and business need women as well as men qualified in the STEM disciplines. Why are there so few women at the top of FTSE 100 companies – I believe 7 was mentioned – pathetically few! There are many excellent organisations promoting women in science, such as WISE and WES, but sadly progress is painfully slow. Depressing to think things have not moved on significantly in the past 30 years despite our exhortations.
Then there is the generational issue. The younger generation understand technology and its capacity to solve problems but their bosses and indeed teachers are much less familiar with its possibilities. This leads to frustration and also slowing of progress. Schools need to promote Technology as early as in KS1. Teachers need training. There is research showing girls get turned off STEM as early as aged 8years.
What about ethnicity? Go to any school prize giving in this country and white British students will be in a tiny minority when STEM winners are announced. How can we motivate our students better. Parents are key of course as is respect for education and an understanding that a job is required in the end. Mentors from business and industry would help. Girls schools are said to do better but not significantly. In fact my belief is diamond schools where coeducation comes together in the primary and sixth form phases have the greatest potential.
Then there is public awareness. How many people are aware that we have a new type of school being established in this country? Universtity Technical Colleges (UTCs) are the brain child of Lord Baker. They specialise in STEM subjects , have to have significant business and industry input as well as sustained university support. There are 30 in place and more in the pipeline and they plan to educate 600 students each. Instead of knocking them because they are different, start at 14, are new, we should embrace the opportunity they afford and ensure their success with our support and promotion.
Careers teachers were mentioned as a way forward but experience has shown no one person, least of all a teacher, has the knowledge and experience to know all possible careers available especially in the expanding technology sector. Schools need visiting speakers and mentors from all sectors to come in and enlighten students and teachers as to why they should be motivated by the myriad of STEM opportunities beyond school.
Governors too came in for discussion, they have the opportunity to influence schools and bring experience of the world outside. However there are 24000 schools and each has a board of say 12 governors. It is a big ask of this large volunteer workforce but it is an important one. All those of us in employment could offer our services to a local school as a governor. The richness of the questioning and results would surely rise.
Geography plays a part too of course. Why are our schools in London and the large urban areas flourishing and increasingly popular, while those in the remote areas of the country and particularly in and around the coasts struggle. Proximity to jobs, infrastructure, opportunities, business all stimulate growth. We need to ensure that just because you live in a rural part of the country that it does not mean your education will provide you with less opportunity and stimulation.
Technology is certainly key today and it is underlain by STEM subjects. Business, industry, education need to collaborate meaningfully so we as a country lead the way in STEM and so ensure we do not continue to waste the talent of half the population, our girls.