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Why getting students interested in Stem is crucial to future Olympic success

Schools need to do more for Stem education in the UK, says Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie

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Schools need to do more for Stem education in the UK, says Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie

You would think that being the most successful sailor in Olympic history would be enough of a draw to find engineers to work for you.

But Sir Ben Ainslie, winner of medals at five consecutive Olympics from 1996 onwards, has said that he has difficulty finding world-class engineers – and that this is down to the UK not doing enough for science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) education.

Speaking at the BT Stem Crew media launch on Monday, Sir Ben spoke about the struggle to find engineers for his team for the Americas cup. “We have a very multinational team because we have found a shortage of UK engineers,” he said.

BT Stem Crew, of which Sir Ben is a patron, is a free online learning platform to be used in schools with 11-16 year olds.

Based on the technology used by the Land Rover BAR team, the platform aims to get more schoolchildren involved in Stem subjects by teaching these subjects through the real-life context of sailing, rather than the abstract terms they are usually taught in.

Critical to success

While there are only 14 sailors in the crew behind the Land Rover BAR, there are over 40 engineers; this means that future success relies on encouraging more young people to pursue engineering.

“To win we don’t only need the best team of sailors, we also need the best engineers, and our programme places emphasis on this,” Sir Ben said. 

“Almost every aspect of these subjects are critical to our success as a team, and these jobs are also critical to our economy.”

Encouraging girls’ interest in the Stem subjects is another aim of the programme, which includes strong female role models, like Katie Lawrence, performance engineer for the BAR.

Part of the problem, according to Sir Ben, is that Stem subjects are surrounded by misconceptions – much like sailing itself.

“It’s not just gin and tonics on a Sun-Seeker, but a real sport that schools can get involved in,” he added. “Excitement is key – the same as with any sport and any career.”

However, he hopes that programmes like this, which demonstrate the breadth of Stem subjects will encourage more children to get involved.

You can find out more about BT Stem Crew on their website.

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