An interesting report published by Let’s Talk Science, involving Canadian teens aged 13-17, highlights that although the majority of teens find STEM fun, many just don’t see its relevance in future career plans.
The Let’s Talk Science research focuses on teen perceptions of STEM, and found that there has been a substantial increase in the amount of teens who say they enjoy STEM-related subjects. Out of the students interviewed, an encouraging 72 percent expressed that STEM was fun, which is a whopping 34% increase on findings from 2011. Additionally, the report shows that 74 percent of teens felt that “a good understanding of STEM is very important to adult life,” which is great news.
Interest and Values Trump Specific Career Choices
Part of the report focuses on the fact that between the ages of 13 and 17, interest and values are weightier than specific career choices. At this age, teens often have no real direction, or confirmed ideas about future professions, but do have strong convictions about the type of work they would like to do. Of the teens interviewed, 84 percent said they would like a career that involved making a contribution to society, with 70 percent voicing interest in employment that involved problem solving; both of which are attributes present in many STEM-related professions.
What’s Going Wrong?
Despite the good news concerning growing positive teen opinion about STEM, the research also revealed that although 79 percent of 13 year olds interviewed thought science was fun; this dropped to 68 percent by the time they reached 17.
So, we must ask ourselves why kids are leaning towards careers with strong STEM attributes, understand the importance of STEM learning, and find it fun, yet still lose interest?
One reason is that they are simply unable to see the correlation between STEM studies and future career prospects, with many fairly ignorant about what STEM professions really involve. For example, some teens decide not to take science because they don’t want to be a scientist, or believe that all engineering careers involve machinery and very little else. They are simply unaware of the bigger picture, and the relevance of STEM learning across a multitude of different careers.
Another huge reason is ability: students naturally lean towards, and show more interest in, the areas where they feel more proficient. Although students enjoy STEM during middle and early high school, after this, it seems they begin to doubt their capabilities; many feel they are not competent enough to study the subject beyond high school, often believing their grades are too low, or that they perform better in other classes.
So, What Can Society Do to Change This?
Helping teens understand the relevance of STEM subjects needs to be multi-pronged. Parents are the number-one influence over the decisions made by teens, and although the tide is turning, many still fail to see the importance of STEM. It is imperative that parents talk to their teens about STEM, and how relevant it is to future success across the board.
Parents should cultivate an interest in STEM from an early age, and ensure that they participate in related activities at home. It is no secret that STEM is often inadequately catered for in middle and high school, so if necessary, parents should take the initiative and look towards extracurricular learning opportunities, such as afterschool or summer camps.
Additionally, parents need to help teens find resources that explain the relevance of STEM, educating them on the multitude of careers available to those that have a solid STEM background.
However, the responsibility doesn’t only fall to parents: teachers also need to be on board, and provide learning that is stimulating, hands-on, and relevant to the world we live in today. Schools need to provide educators who are specifically trained in STEM, and well-equipped to teach it at a high level, as well as the resources needed to make this happen. As well as teaching staff, schools should employ career guidance counselors who are clued up on STEM, so that they can help teens see where STEM could feature in their future employment.
Amid all the understandable doom and gloom about lack of interest in STEM, there is a glimmer of hope. Some of the positive statistics are very encouraging; we just need to find ways to foster and sustain our teens’ interest, and continue guiding them in the right direction.