Since its arrival on to the list of educational acronyms all those years ago, Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) has become virtually a constant in the media. Yet the vast majority of articles and soundbites focus mainly on maths and science, with engineering and technology subjects left very much as Cinderellas. Our schools don’t help matters as, when push comes to shove, although they say they champion all Stem subjects, they still rate maths and the sciences far above the rest.
At subject choice time, if it is a straight decision between a science subject and engineering or other technology subjects, more often than not, the pupil will be steered towards the former. Maths and science are seen as academic heavyweights, with more clout and standing. This is not just the viewpoint of schools but of parents and society in general.
You have only to examine the entry requirements for university: the first grades they look for are in maths and science. Even if you are applying for a design or engineering-related course, having a technology or engineering qualification is often not seen as necessary. When enrolling on an architecture course, graphic communication isn’t even listed as a requirement. They say these skills will be taught later, but why can’t it be the sciences or maths that they teach later instead? Surely a skill in design and manufacture or graphics is more relevant to these courses than anything else?
We obviously need to do more to raise our profile and improve the standing of our subjects to create a level playing field for engineering and technology. Many departments are doing fantastic work in showcasing our subjects to pupils and parents through innovative courses, extracurricular clubs, competitions, special weeks, day events or big initiatives designed to encourage more female pupils into our areas. Industry is crying out for engineers and designers and skilled craftspeople, but we need to change perceptions of our subjects’ worth at all levels of society, and especially with the powers that be, to help meet this need.
A world without engineering or technology would be a very different place from the comfortable one we have at present. What came first? Was it the ability to do maths or science in isolation, or was it the problem-solving that advanced civilisations through technology and engineering? It’s very much a team effort between all these subjects that has helped humankind to make breakthroughs.
And it’s a team effort we need in education, where we respect each other as equals. Unfortunately, people see some Stem subjects as more equal than others.
Tommy Boag is a design and technology teacher in the West of Scotland