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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is a priority for governments around the world. For example, the UK's current commitment to increasing investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 means that we need to train 260,000 more researchers to carry out this work.
There has long been a perceived shortage in such skills and knowledge. And this drives policy measures in education, skills and immigration to address the situation.
STEM - Strategies - Governments - Disparities - Participation
In their STEM strategies, governments are increasingly focused on addressing the large disparities in participation between different social groups. For example, in the UK only 15% of scientists come from working-class households, just 7% of patents are filed by women, and among start-up founders men outnumber women four to one. The problem is often discussed in terms of a "leaky pipeline," the idea that potential STEM professionals are lost at particular points along defined pathways.
This spurs governments around the world to target activities at young people, aiming to foster STEM engagement from an early stage. "STEM inspiration" is one way to do this, by offering STEM-related activities to school-age children beyond usual subject teaching. This could take place within schools, or informally through visits to museums or in the home or community.
Department - Business - Energy - Industrial - Strategy
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funds STEM inspiration in the UK, spending £103m annually on programs delivered through bodies such as STEM Learning Ltd, the Wellcome Trust, and the British Science Association.
But is all this activity having the desired effect or could it even be doing more harm than good?
Provision - Example - Mapping - Invention - Programs
First, we know that there is just not enough provision. For example, our mapping of invention programs found that they reach just 1.5% of the UK school population annually. Overall, participation in STEM careers activities is low, with less than 30% of 11- to...
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