The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Engaging a wider STEM talent pool

By Steve Owens, Glasgow Science Centre on Tour Manager

Bringing science to young people

Over the past decade, the team I run has travelled over a quarter of a million miles around Scotland to deliver the Bodyworks on Tour show to over 775,000 young people across all 32 local authorities – helping to bring science alive in ways that many of those young people had never experienced before. It’s been an ambitious undertaking only enabled thanks to funding from the collaboration with leading pharmaceuticals organisation GSK, as part of their STEM education outreach programme, and funding from the Scottish government.

Just last year we travelled to Brae High School in Shetland - requiring 16 hours of travel time. Why do we, in partnership with GSK, commit to this level of outreach when there are discovery centres like the Glasgow Science Centre available to visit? The simple answer? It comes down to accessibility and responsibility.GSK GSC pic 2

No matter where we go, there is a huge appetite for science amongst young people. That is the common denominator. The differentiator is that not all young people have equal access to the types of science experiences that can spark life-long engagement and a commitment to further STEM study.

If you live in Westray, two ferries and a further train journey separate you from the immersive science experiences found within the four walls of the Glasgow Science Centre. And if you come from a disadvantaged background, the money simply might not be there to spend on a day out. That’s why we dedicate 25% of our outreach activities to the 20% of schools identified as being in the most deprived areas according to the SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation).

Because without these initiatives, tens of thousands of the young people we have reached over the past decade may never – as a result of geographic or economic barriers - have enjoyed a live science experience. And yet, multiple research studies point to their impact being transformative.

"Light bulb" moments

The Wellcome Trust says that ‘experiences outside the classroom are essential to give meaning, relevance and context to the ideas that schools offer’. Why? Because they provide fresh, thought provoking ways to access and feel connected with science. Live experiences can also break down ‘not for me’ barriers by bringing science to life in ways that make it more relevant and that reignite enthusiasm for learning. In fact, 60% of secondary students improved marks in classroom assessment following a museum or gallery visit (Wellcome Trust, Science Learning +).

I’ve been privileged to witness the light bulb moments that can be sparked during this type of outreach. These moments can be big or small but are always significant.

Teachers have shared with me that they’ve seen students ask a question in front of the class for the first time. A young boy told me he was going to ‘use his Xbox time’ to log onto YouTube and find out more about what we’d been learning and I’ve even had young people say it’s influenced their options choices. Several of our own team credit their decision to pursue a STEM related career to live science experiences they enjoyed as a child. What matters is that all are examples of changed behaviour and genuine STEM engagement.

Our future

GSK GSC pic 1Knowing the potential for science experiences to drive engagement at such a deep level and knowing the huge potential that exists for young talent in our thriving STEM economy, the cultural sector, schools and STEM organisations, like GSK, have a responsibility to work together to deliver as many of these experiences as possible to inspire our future talent pool.

The rapid expansion of the STEM sector in the UK is set to nearly double the number of new STEM roles required over the next decade (STEM Learning, May 2018) and Scotland will play a leading role in that expansion. Scottish Government figures show that STEM related roles represent a 37% share of total employment in Scotland, higher than the UK average of 32% (STEM Evidence Base, Scottish Government October 2017), so the potential for future generations is huge.

With GSK committing to a further five-year outreach programme that will engage 350,000 people of all ages with inspiring STEM experiences we have a very real opportunity today to inspire the scientists and engineers of tomorrow – irrespective of geographical, emotional and economic barriers.

More information

To find out more about the GSK sponsored GSC Bodyworks and the Glasgow Science Centre go to:

www.glasgowsciencecentre.org

To learn more about GSK’s wider STEM education initiatives including how to enter your students for the coveted titles of GSK UK Young Scientist of the Year and GSK UK Young Engineer of the Year in the 2020 Big Bang Fair competition go to:

www.gskstemeducation.com