STEM Education in the UK

UK learning is dislocated from national priorities and it's time for a major rethink, says Adrian Oldknow.

The UK has a crisis – what’s new? No, it’s not just the collapse of the financial institutions and the downturn of the economy. It is how to regenerate a moribund system with the ingenuity required to compete internationally with countries which are currently investing in the technological education of their youth.

With economic stagnation endemic and youth unemployment at an all-time high, isn't it time for a radical push to reinvent UK plc along with fresh opportunities for young people and a curriculum that simultaneously taps into the pleasure and relevance of maths, science, engineering and technology as well as providing crucial employment skills? All that's required is the vision and commitment.

It is not (only) rocket science – and we have done it before – in 1940 and 1980. What has changed is the widespread availability of powerful, convenient and low-cost computing devices and software, such as a £15 computer!

Since the change of government in May 2010 things have gone very quiet for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and ICT in schools, colleges and academies – in England, that is. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own curricula – and their own policies on STEM and ICT in schools.

One particular issue about the curriculum which has been stirred up over the past couple of years is the place of computing and ICT as a curriculum subject. Concerns were raised in a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering in its ICT for the UK's Future PDF (990 KB) report in October 2009 which led to an inquiry by the Royal Society chaired by Professor Steve Furber which is due to report in 2012.

The British Computer Society’s Academy and the Microsoft Research Laboratory in Cambridge have also helped by establishing a Computing At School working group (CAS). The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) commissioned Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope to carry out a review of the particular skills requirements of the lucrative UK video games and visual effects industry. Their Next Gen report was published in February, and two government ministers spoke at the launch – John Hayes MP and Ed Vaizey MP.

These speakers have roles in two government departments. John Hayes looks after further education, skills and lifelong learning in both DBIS and DfE, while Ed Vaizey looks after culture, communications and creative industries in both DBIS and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Read more on the Learning Teaching Technology website.