STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
STEM subjects are integral to the UK’s success: the UK is the world’s sixth largest manufacturer, engineering turnover is around £800 billion per year, and whilst the UK makes up only 1% of the world’s population, we produce 10% of the world’s top scientific research. Despite this, it is remarkable to note that even though STEM graduates have the potential to earn amongst the highest salaries of all new recruits, employers are finding it difficult to recruit STEM skilled staff. And alongside our need for a skilled STEM workforce, it is crucial that all young people, regardless of their future career pathway, have the STEM knowledge and skills they need to be an informed citizen in an increasingly scientific and technological society.
Government has long identified STEM education as a major priority at both school and HE level. In 2007 the McKinsey report, How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top, compared successful education systems from across the world to identify the factors most likely to provide the best education. Not surprisingly the Report's key finding was that: 'Above all, the top performing systems demonstrate that quality of an education system depends ultimately on the quality of its teachers.'
Education for a strong STEM economy is built on strong subject teaching. The number and quality of teachers and lecturers recruited to train to teach STEM subjects plays a significant role in the success of students. As learners progress they require specialist knowledge to challenge them. Within schools and colleges STEM subjects are usually taught individually, providing young people with the benefit of specialist teaching.. However the view of STEM that young people experience outside of school is far more complex – with technology and engineering at the fore, drawing on a broad science base and mathematical expertise.
One challenge for STEM teaching is to help young people recognise how the science, design & technology, computer science, engineering and mathematics that they study at school or college can lead to rich and varied career pathways. This complexity is a challenge – but also offers an enormous opportunity for STEM teachers to engage young people with these strategically important subjects.
By reaching outside their own classroom, teachers and lecturers collaborate across subjects, enhance and enrich the school curriculum, make links with the world of work, and use varied contexts to help young people relate school STEM subjects with their real-world experience.
This in no way undermines the fundamental fascination that young people have with major scientific explanations, or the excitement that results from grasping the power of a mathematical model. But for some students the route to this satisfaction will start from an experience of STEM in the wider world, and thinking of STEM as a group of inter-related subjects helps to open up those doors. Effective and inspiring teachers, sufficiently supported, are vital to raising students’ enjoyment of, enthusiasm for, and achievement in STEM subjects.