STEM

Are European students too lazy? Are they unwilling to tackle complicated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) subjects? Despite eye-watering unemployment rates, many employers are struggling to recruit enough technically-skilled workers. At the same time, large numbers of people in these fields are coming up for retirement, with around 7 million job openings forecast until 2025.

Despite the greater job prospects, the number of students studying science subjects is not increasing at the European level. This seems strange, given how difficult it is to find a job in Europe right now. Is the problem with how science is taught in the classroom? Would a more creative approach to teaching convince students that STEM subjects can be engaging, interesting, and accessible for non-geniuses?

This week the European Schoolnet and Scientix project of the European Commission jointly organize a series of live events on STEM education and e-skills in Barcelona, bringing experts politicians and other stakeholders together to discuss these questions and latest trends in education and technology (click here for the programme).

Want to know more about science teaching in Europe’s classrooms? We’ve put together some of the facts and figures into an infographic below (click for a bigger version).

Scientix_2_FINAL

We had a comment sent in from Jan arguing that the problem was too many students find technical subjects complicated and boring. What’s the best way to convince them that science can be engaging and worthwhile?

To get a response, we took Jan’s comment to Vitor Duarte Teodoro, a former Assistant Professor at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal. He said the first step was to admit that science, at a professional level, was complicated and boring. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be taught in an engaging way:

teodoroThe first thing I would like to say is that it is complicated. It’s like sports, if you are a sports professional, you need to work hard. And I can assure you that most of the time it is boring. Let’s imagine a swimmer; they can train 6 hours per day, 7 hours per week, and I cannot believe that they don’t find such training boring.

The problem is not that science is boring or complicated. The problem is that if you are a student learning it, you need to involve yourself in learning, and not just be a passive person in the classroom. What happens most of the time in science classrooms is that students are too passive, and are not involved in the process of learning…

The first thing they must know is that if you are a professional – in sports, music, or science – at a certain level it is always really complicated and boring because there is too much routine. That’s the way life is and you can’t change that! But that doesn’t mean that if you’re in a classroom you can’t be involved, discussing, observing, confronting ideas. And that’s the problem in science teaching. Most of the time, students don’t talk, don’t discuss, and don’t argue.

For another perspective, we spoke to Sam Marsh, a teaching fellow at the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Sheffield. What would he say to Jan:

sam-marshI think it’s about encouraging confidence. What I would say to students who were looking at maths and science and are scared of what they see is that maths and science always looks hard before you learn it. And I remember this as a student myself, looking at work that I didn’t know and hadn’t learnt yet and thinking: ‘No chance, I can’t understand this’.

And this carried on throughout my undergraduate degree, into post-graduate level, and even into research level. Half of my colleagues, I look at their work and think: ‘I can’t do that’ – but then similarly, they look at my work and are just as scared.

So, my advice to people would be: don’t be scared. You’ll only know whether you can do it by trying. It’s always going to look hard, and you might find that you’re better at it than you think.

What’s the best way to teach science? How can we convince students that technical subjects aren’t too complicated (or boring)? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Wellington College
With the support of:

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32 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Arif

    Coaching not teaching, means learn science by theory and practices, and if suppose there are no scientific solutions for our real life problems then what can we do. For example how do we calculate our scores if there are no addition or multiplication techniques we know? How can we make different colors shades without knowing of chemistry and light spectrum? Realizing them science is everywhere around us it is nothing more visualizing, recording, analyzing , performing and experiments.

  2. avatar
    Hermann Morgenbesser

    A short answer IBSE; students will find out how to use resources, innovative tools simulations etc. We just have to organize the timescale and the topics (ideally according the lesson plan) Bringing in experts can be as helpful as going out of the School building to look up resources work out workload etc.

    In my opinion that is a first begin for a pedagogical “CHANGE”.

    • avatar
      Beata Jarosievitz Dr

      I am agree completely with Hermann.
      The education system and the students attitude, should be change!
      More activity, experiments should be done in the Physics, Chemistry classes.
      The number of the Physics, Chemistry classes should be increase.

  3. avatar
    Patrick Camilleri

    Of all the things we teach, what is remembered is what is meaningful and what is meaningful is what can be contextualised. Therefore I think that contextualisation is very important both for the teacher who is teaching and for the student who is learning.
    Teachers today face namely challenged by the fact that they represent the first generation of those who were educated in ways that are very much different from the way they are expected to teach themselves.
    Then there are the students who are living two realities. Firstly there is the reality of those remote spaces where they are learning with and from each other, away from formal educational setting in their own private bubbles of social networks. Secondly there is the reality of the school. No matter how much we talk on 21st century skills and their important role to bring that much required attitudinal change, they are still being constrained in a structure orchestrated by content and syllabi.
    Therefore spurred by rapid changes in digital technologies we, as educators, are always trying to come to terms with new modalities of teaching and learning. I do not know how far or close we are from a tangible solution but a way forward is to train teachers in the art and process of facilitation, subsequently showing them how they can appropriate and adopt practiced learning behaviours (mentioned further up) to formal educational settings. In the process making learning tangibly and meaningfully relevant to the rising generation.

  4. avatar
    Alex Bell

    If they can get value from it they will. The system is designed in a way that leaves all the benefit at school. The school benefits and not the students. If you want to teach them the laws of physics, why not do so in a way that you relate it to how cars differ from each other based on their power, the student who gets it the best can win a car :)

  5. avatar
    Ivan Vikalo

    Have better teachers… everyone can think about a subject that one didnt like but that became interesting due to the teacher…

  6. avatar
    Christopher Martin

    Teaching needs to be more engaged, fun if possible. More hands on. My biology professor in college just stood there and lectured, it was very boring and he did a poor job of explaining things.

  7. avatar
    Miene Mathon

    We art able to do so since 1983 …

  8. avatar
    Paul Warren

    Why should an intelligent capable STEM graduate work in a school, where they will be over-worked, abused and spat at for a low salary, restricted holidays, and little promotion prosepects, when they can work in industry for three times as much.

  9. avatar
    William C Lowenkamp

    That’s because education in America starts too late and has no instruction in the sciences at a graduated level starting with 1st grade basics.

  10. avatar
    Alvaro Loureiro

    Start with humanity

  11. avatar
    Spencer Tasker

    The problem with science (and maths) uptake starts in primary school. Most primary school teachers are not science or maths competent and cannot be relied on to either teach the subject well or with any passion.

    In parts of Asia maths is taught in primary school by dedicated maths teachers who are both passionate about maths and really understand it. This seems like a good idea and certainly worth trying out.

    Additionally, science needs to be prioritised early and shown to be fun via colourful demonstrations and enjoyable experiments. Children need to catch the science bug and this is a good way to do it.

    Lastly, girls particularly need to be exposed to high-visibility science and technology role-models throughout the length of their education.

  12. avatar
    Aitor

    The best way to teach science is the practice of the science in the school and high school

  13. avatar
    Lourdes

    Most of the teachers in high school have not real experience about the Science they teach. Most of the teachers who teach Statistics for engineering, chemics, veterinary… Don’t know how to make decisions con data.

  14. avatar
    Zuzana Meszarosova

    I agree with Ivan Vikalo – we need good and entusiastic teachers of science. An important thing to remember when teaching any science subject is always have a good deal of enthusiasm for whatever it is. Science can seem very boring to a child, but there’s always something interesting in any topic. If the teacher can find that and he can demonstrate the enthusiasm he/she has for that subject and how interesting it is, that can often rub off onto a pupil or student. Science teachers can usually tie at least something into the topic they’re talking about, something to fire the imagination and the enthusiasm of the pupils. :)

  15. avatar
    Mihai Agape

    I think that the project method is a good way to teach / learn STEM. The students start from a real and challenging problem which is relevant for them. During the project the students are involved in brain on and hands on activities as: planning, documenting, solving theoretical, and practical problems, designing, manufacturing, testing, and evaluation. The project activities are complex and helps students to develop all the key competences, not just the STEM related ones.

  16. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    .

    The problem is ‘STEM’ subjects rely on facts,truths while needing dedication and hard work, the EU fanatics have brainwashed the youth into believing these things are not important.

    Don’t ask questions, Brussels will take care of your every need.

  17. avatar
    J M Perz Gnlz

    A problem with how science is taught? The problem is with the absence of good job expectations on science subjects. Everybody know that financial occupation and TV show clowns are the best paid jobs in this ‘first’ world. But the problem is with the youth, not with corporate CEO’s or investors. Science requires hard work, dedication, and a bit of intelligence developing. None of those are respectful skills in this world.

  18. avatar
    Darin Attard

    Science is taught to make money with total disregard of nature. An example – genetic engineering of food and animals. Corporate take over of food.

  19. avatar
    nando

    I find it interesting, and very elucidating, that the finger is pointed at the students.

    The whole system needs to be revised and “best practices” seriously adopted!
    The incentives that society has created, the teaching programs set by ivory tower bureaucrats, the artificial grading and scoring systems, the boring methods teachers use in the classroom, the exciting distractions that society values more than school grades, the social environment that seems to value “smarts” over “education”, the classroom environment that has changed little since the previous centuries… you name it…

    Let us start with those before we continue these topics before we place “lazy” and “disinterested” and “unmotivated” labels on our students. it behooves us all, parents, teachers, administrators, politicians and society at large.

  20. avatar
    Dóris Cavalcanti

    Behaviors, that are deeply influenced by culture and teachings, cause conflicts.

    The adults must be responsible and care about all the disgraces they can create just by educating their children evilly. Those adults making wars today learned intolerance-hatred-violence with their own parents-people-culture who didn’t care about what they were teaching to their children who would grow up and could turn that hatred-violence-intolerance into ACTIONS like killing people.

  21. avatar
    Rui Duarte

    The problem with how science is taught is the existence on an easy alternative: «modern» leters. If the alternative to escience and mathematics implkied latin, greek AND sancrit, letters would not be seen as «an easy way out from mathematics and science». Instead, it is possible to be «a doctor» by learning english and fench.. I mean.. that+s pretty poor…

  22. avatar
    Nithish Kumar

    Teach them about God…

  23. avatar
    Enric Mestres Girbal

    Probably some teachers don’t know how to teach…and probably some studens don’t know how ro study.

  24. avatar
    Mari Lina

    Hay que ponerse a nivel de los niños.Con Ciencias explicadas a su nivel,para entusiarmarles.Muchos maestros lo hacen.Sobretodo en la Escuela Rural.Estoy oyendo la radio en estos momentos, con niños de la escuela rural.Como era la escuela donde yo estudié RURAL.

  25. avatar
    Anna Matassoni

    I’m trying to propose in schools an e-book as hypertext for teaching science, about water on Earth. A network of hundreds of links allows you to create personal paths, based on your own interests, to have a multidisciplinary vision. I think it is interesting to allow students to create their own path.

  26. avatar
    Patrick Camilleri

    Helo Anna
    how will the ebook be different from any other book?
    What kind of behaviours will it elicit that a normal book will not?
    These are the kind of questions that we have to pose or else we end up dragging traditional modalities in the realm of ICT and that is not what we want but rather to elicit ‘other’ forms of behaviours and attitudes that traditional methodologies do not.

  27. avatar
    Anna Matassoni

    It is a project that was born years ago as a research university for science teaching. Then it was “converted” in e-book for better usability, while retaining the characteristics of hypertext, with paths of different levels. Here is a video that shows its use: http://www.terraacqua.it/2015/12/21/il-video-del-libro-pianeta-acqua/
    I believe that use may be an interesting, even for new projects.

  28. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    Not lazy, they have just been lied too. Life outside collage / university is not all about safe spaces and not having your feeling hurt. To many leaving school are convinced they need a degree when they actually need training in a vocational & transferable skills. It is estimated that 80-90% of all students taking a degree will never use it which means the whole system is a waste of time effort & money.

  29. avatar
    David

    Interesting post. I love to read these type of informative articles. This is very helpful for everyone. Science teachers who reported that pursuing a career in the teaching profession was their goal. Teachers play a vital role in the lives of their students.

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