Scotland can become a STEM nation
Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, talks through the Scottish Government’s STEM strategy
Shirley-Anne Somerville - credit Alistair Kerr/Holyrood
We recently published our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) strategy for education and training.
We want to enable people to be inquiring, productive and innovative, both in order to grow STEM literacy in society and to drive inclusive economic growth.
The strategy has a clear focus and a strong purpose – to be a nation with ambition, Scotland must become a STEM nation.
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Focusing on key themes of excellence, equity, inspiration and connection, it is designed to drive improvement in relation to STEM and ensure co-ordinated and focused action right across the education, training and skills landscape in Scotland.
First, we must build the capacity of the education and training system to deliver excellent STEM learning and to help achieve that we will, from August 2018, be making bursaries of £20,000 available for people giving up an existing career to undertake teacher training in STEM subjects where we currently have a shortage of students.
We will also create a new network of STEM specialist advisers to work with early years providers and schools to ensure the sharing of best practice is at the heart of excellence in STEM learning and teaching.
To support STEM learning in schools, we will continue to fund the Scottish Science Education Research Centre and our partnership with the Wood Foundation on the Raising Aspirations in Science Education programme, as well as investing in new resources for practitioners.
It is vital everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their STEM potential and contribute to Scotland’s economic prosperity, so our second aim is to close equity gaps in participation and attainment in STEM.
We have committed to taking action to improve the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM learning, and to tackle unconscious bias and gender stereotyping that creates barriers to participation, access and attainment.
This must start from the earliest years onwards and be sustained throughout the education system. It will include action to tackle gender segregation and promote equality of opportunity in the early years, apprenticeships, college and university courses.
We will also work closely with equalities experts in the third sector to create a dedicated team to embed practice from the successful Institute of Physics’ gender balance project across all schools by 2022.
The third strand of our strategy is about the importance of inspiring children, young people and adults to study STEM and continue their studies to obtain more specialist skills.
I recently visited the Jimmy Dunnachie Family Learning Centre in Glasgow which has established a strong STEM pre-school curriculum and the children there were utterly engaged and enthused in STEM.
That early years work is key to setting children of all ages – both boys and girls – from a range of backgrounds on a journey of wonder, for them to learn to question, to experiment, to problem solve and to always ask ‘why?’ and ‘what’s next?’
The current UK STEM Ambassador programme provides a strong network of support for education and, to complement that, we will establish a new Young STEM Leaders programme to stimulate the development of peer mentoring in STEM.
This year, we are providing £2.625m to support the work of Scotland’s four science centres, as well as £250,000 for science festivals across Scotland. We are the only government in the UK to provide annual support to science centres and festivals and it is vitally important we do so as they have a key role to play not only in inspiring STEM in children, young people and adults, but also in helping to tackle inequity.
We have therefore targeted our funding to enable the centres and science festivals to further encourage girls in particular and, more generally, people from deprived, rural and remote communities to engage in informal STEM learning and experiences.
The fourth aim of our strategy seeks to connect the STEM education and training offer with labour market need, both now and in the future.
To increase collaboration and connection, we will create a new STEM hub network to strengthen regional-level collaboration between partners, including universities, science centres and employers.
This network will initially focus on building partnerships between secondary schools and colleges but will broaden out to include primary and early learning settings.
We will build on the good work our colleges and universities are already doing by increasing the number of student placements with employers in STEM curriculum areas; increasing the number of graduate and post-qualification internships offered with STEM employers; and ensuring students can access the best advice and guidance about STEM careers.
I am confident that through the actions set out in this strategy we can unlock the opportunities for all of Scotland to thrive and become a STEM nation.
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