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January 27, 2017updated 30 Jan 2017 12:21pm

Reviving interest in STEM to tackle the UK digital skills gap

As interest in STEM falls, MathWorks discusses ways it plans to get the interest soaring again.

By Hannah Williams

Whilst Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects remain popular amongst students, there is a noticeable loss of interest in applying skills learned from subjects to the making of career choice.

From a previous survey conducted by MathWorks, it was found that a wide range of students who show an interest in STEM subjects in the classroom are less likely to use that interest towards making STEM-related career choices.

Chris Hayhurst, Consulting Manager, MathWorks

In an interview with CBR, Chris Hayhurst, Consulting Manager, MathWorks said: “Between ages 16 to 18 there is a noticeable concern in loss of interest. Many already remove themselves from opportunities of further study and job/ careers so it is about trying to get back to that and enable them to make the right choices so that after university, people are able to come out with technical degrees.

“This then leads to the question of making the jobs more attractive and rather than draw for people being more appealed to city jobs and non-technical careers.

“It’s certainly not a problem of there not being jobs available but there does seem to be quite a drop-off, even with going all the way through a degree level course to then not choose an engineering or so discipline after that. That’s one of the things we need to try and help fix.”

STEM professionals were surveyed to identify why the UK national curriculum is not attracting students to STEM subjects and careers, 55 percent of teachers argued that during Key Stage three is when students are likely to begin taking an interest in career choices, making this the best time for students to develop a strong interest in STEM.

With 50 percent of STEM professionals all agreeing that students should be more encouraged to begin pursuing a career in STEM while in primary school, MathWorks decided to partner with both primary and secondary schools to help in making this change.

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STEMHayhurst said: “It has been identified that one of the biggest constraints in STEM is finding the right people so we’re trying to find ways to get people into the industry, not just within the industry but also going back to academia so primary and secondary schools.

“We started off looking at academia then pushed into the industry. Now we are very much coming down through primary and secondary schools, so we’re partnering with a number of them to enrich their maths curriculum and then even back down to primary schools trying to build simple illustrations of how maths is interesting and exciting.”

 

See how STEM is making an impact via a museum on the next page.

The company also used this as an opportunity to explore the creativity in mathematics, with the recent opening of The Winton Gallery in London’s Science Museum which opened in December 2016, exploring how mathematicians and their tools have helped shape the modern world over past four hundred years.

The opening of the gallery is also a way for students to boost their enjoyment of STEM, as 60 percent of STEM professionals say that students love for STEM is not built within the classroom alone but also with the support of extra-curricular activities like visiting the museum with families.

The Winston Gallery, Science Museum

The Winton (Maths) Gallery, Science Museum-London

In helping people understand that maths can be found and used in a selection of different careers, the museum opened the gallery to show people, particularly students, that maths truly is everywhere.

This is also supported with MathWorks tool MATLAB, which is a platform used for solving engineering and scientific problems. It enables users to analyse large amounts of data, noticeably used by various engineers and scientists around the world in subjects such as aerospace and others that are gradually becoming more popular in the industry.

Hayhurst added: “One of the things we are doing is we’re helping university level professors to change their curriculums to make sure that actually, the tools that will be used in industry are taught also in university. So that people will get to the end of their degree and have all the skills needed for jobs and also the confidence and enthusiasm for using those tools and seeing what they can achieve and it is a natural progression.”

Overall, there is an essential need for more STEM-skilled applicants across industries and in order for the UK to remain a strong competitor in the global economy, schools and universities are strongly advised to continually attract students to STEM subjects, helping them to visualise the interest and enjoyment within careers to enable skills learnt to be put to essential use during career choices.

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