STEM education is imperative. Over the last two to three decades, STEM education has taken a back seat in the UK. With more focus on commerce and humanities, STEM has been what one would call collateral damage. It is unwise to focus on any one discipline or group of subjects and make it the Holy Grail but the fact that a majority of kids growing up in the nineties and the first decade of this millennium have shied away from STEM highlights the need for a change in how we perceive and reform our education system.
An article published in The Guardian back in 2014 showered a glimmer of hope. It highlighted how there has been a 12% increase in the number of computer science students. It marked the highest total in more than ten years. Statistics published by the Higher Education Funding Council reported that 98,000 students enrolled for STEM courses for their undergraduate programs in 2013-14. That marked an increase of 8% as compared to 2012-13 and a massive 18% as compared to 2002-03. Technology and engineering courses marked an increase of 6%. However, we need to focus more on STEM education to undo the shortfalls of two decades.
The most significant phase of cognitive development is when children are in their preteens. It is this age group, 6 to 11, when kids must be encouraged to hone their skills in STEM. Should a child be uninterested in STEM at this age, it is highly unlikely that she or he would go on to pursue any degree in STEM. It is very uncommon for kids to opt for STEM suddenly when they are in high school. After that, it is almost impossible to enter the stream because STEM undergraduate and postgraduate degrees require high schooling in science, technology and maths.
The need to focus on STEM education is all the more important because there are fewer girls in the disciplines. Here are some stats to mull over. Less than 13% of the STEM workforce in the UK is women. Among professors teaching STEM in the country, less than 17% is women. Girls constitute less than 40% of enrolment for undergraduate science courses. At postgraduate levels, less than 34% are women. As you delve deeper into specific sciences and technology disciplines, the stats are all the more shocking, excluding biology.
If we need more STEM professors, scientists, researchers, technologists, engineers and doctors, then we cannot just focus on one half of our population. We need to encourage girls.