Resource

Inspiring the next generation of engineers

In March 2015, the IET launched a campaign aimed at introducing engineering to a primary-age audience. Rather than focusing on what engineers do, they focus on what engineers are like.

The short film they’ve made uses phrases such as ‘Have you ever wondered…?’, and ‘Here’s to the day-dreamers, the distracted, the intrigued…’.  We’ve already written a blog post about the video.

The research (PDF), which was carried out for the IET by Childwise, is a small-scale, mixed methods study. They used paired interviews with children and with parents in 4 different geographical locations.  In total there were 32 children and 18 parents involved.  This small sample size should be taken into account when drawing conclusions from the research.  As well as the qualitative interviews, Childwise also conducted quantitative research using an online survey of 1007 adults and their children aged between 9 and 12.

Key findings of the research for Think Physics.

  • Children (of both genders) enjoy ICT/computing, science, DT, and maths.  However, girls tend to enjoy art, music and English more than STEM subjects.
  • Parents and children don’t really know what sort of careers are available under the banner of ‘engineering’, and tend to default to the ‘building or fixing things’ view of engineering.  Few thought about design or creativity aspects of sector. Girls were most likely to think that engineering relates only to cars.
  • Parents want to support their children with career choices – and suggested more information about careers, role models and visits from engineers into school as possible ways this could happen.

Media publicity about the launch:

Key report: ASPIRES

One of the key reports upon which NUSTEM aims to build is ASPIRES, a five-year study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Conducted by King’s College, London, the project:

…sought to shed new light on our understanding of how young people’s aspirations develop over this 10-14 age period, exploring in particular what influences the likelihood of a young person aspiring to a science-related career.

The final report spans a few dozen pages and is highly readable, and it challenges several assumptions. The headline findings are:
•Most young people have high aspirations – just not for science.
•Negative views of school science and scientists are NOT the problem.
•Family ‘science capital’ is key.
•Most students and families are not aware of where science can lead.
•The brainy image of scientists and science careers puts many young people off.
•The (white) male, middle-class image of science careers remains a problem.

As you’d expect, there’s considerable detail and nuance behind each of those findings, and for the implications and recommendations the ASPIRES team articulate. NUSTEM’s emphasis on interaction from early years and primary onwards, our enthusiasm for embedding careers messages throughout our work, and our inclusion of family interactions in our plans are all informed by ASPIRES.

The ASPIRES team are continuing their study, exploring the older 14-19 age group, with ASPIRES2.