During the coronavirus crisis, a spotlight has been shone on the brilliant work of scientists, technicians and engineers responding to the needs of the nation. We have seen exceptional examples of engineering across essential services and infrastructure – from the design and delivery of thousands of ventilators to the building of NHS Nightingale field hospitals.
With this increased visibility, educators now have a golden opportunity to open young people’s eyes to engineering as a relevant, pervasive and exciting sector.
Our annual STEM survey of young people last year (2019) found that they want to pursue careers that have a positive impact. With so much focus on the value of STEM skills, now is the time to engage young people in the amazing ways engineers are supporting society during the current crisis.
And let us not forget, engineering will continue to be hugely important in responding to national and global challenges, from the pandemic to climate change. As such, it will continue to offer valuable and cutting-edge careers.
However, our recent research report (2020) found that the majority of young people aged 11 to 19 are worried that the coronavirus pandemic will adversely affect the educational routes and job opportunities available to them.
Right now school leaders and teachers are quite rightly focused on ensuring children close any vital gaps in knowledge that have resulted from lockdown. There are many competing priorities, but I would urge schools to continue to prioritise impactful careers experiences and opportunities in the months ahead – and Neon can help.
At EngineeringUK, we work to inspire and grow the number and diversity of tomorrow’s engineers and our work spans across STEM disciplines. Some of our most important work is supporting teachers to deliver STEM experiences in and outside of the classroom.
We have worked with the engineering community to launch Neon. A free, online platform, Neon helps teachers to find quality-assured STEM and engineering outreach activities and inspiring careers resources. It has been developed with support from a range of leading organisations.
Neon will also support teachers challenged by the limitations placed on them by Covid-19. The engineering community already has a strong heritage of creating and facilitating in-class experiences. With the rise of digital media these experiences have evolved, incorporating digital tools and online environments.
From our Big Bang Digital 2020 online STEM event to TeenTech and Energy Quest online, there are increasing opportunities for schools to engage in STEM and engineering experiences digitally.
Such activities provide schools with greater accessibility, breaking down geographical boundaries, providing access to experiences and engineers from around the world. They can also engage large numbers of students, including those who may not engage as well in face-to-face events. For example, the I’m an Engineer, Get Me Out of Here project connects engineers from across the world with classes via an online Q&A.
These experiences will join other Covid-secure “real-life” and in-class experiences on the Neon platform. Neon also provides inspiration and opportunities for teachers to plan external excursions and experiences, for when the time is right to being undertaking them again.
The 2019 research already mentioned also showed us that young people aged 11 to 19 who had taken part in a STEM careers activity reported higher knowledge of what engineers do, viewed engineering as a more desirable career, and could better see themselves capable of becoming an engineer if they wanted to. These experiences are powerful.
So no matter the current logistical challenges, my plea to school leaders is to join us in supporting teachers to continue to deliver transformative experiences in creative ways. I will leave you with three tips for this work:
- In considering digital experiences, seek out social and interactive options. Digital does not just mean watching videos and passively listening. Encourage online activities that support group working and discussion.
- Connect engineering to real-world role models that your students can relate to. Look for activities that promote engagement with real engineers – with online experiences there are opportunities to access engineers from around the world and Neon can help to connect to local engineers.
- Share ideas, encourage discussion and set time aside for teachers to think creatively about how to bring STEM activities into the classroom
- Dr Hilary Leevers is the CEO of EngineeringUK.
Further information & resources
- Engineering UK: Young People & Covid-19, August 2020: www.engineeringuk.com/research/briefings/young-people-and-covid-19/
- Engineering UK: Engineering Brand Monitor, 2019: https://bit.ly/3cBUJJM
- I’m an Engineer, Get Me Out Of Here: https://imanengineer.org.uk/
- Neon: www.neonfutures.org.uk