Parents can help create a brighter future for the next generation in STEM

With the CAO change of mind deadline looming, Science Foundation Ireland, which manages Smart Futures in partnership with the Engineers Ireland’s STEPS programme, is calling on parents to encourage their children to think differently about careers linked to STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths.

Parents can help break career-related stereotypes according to research by Smart Futures.

Research commissioned by Science Foundation Ireland in 2014 found that how students see themselves ‘fitting in’ to a course is the most significant factor influencing their decisions (62%), when choosing study paths.

So ‘fitting in’ ranks higher than career prospects (56%) or entry requirements (28%) for when students are considering CAO choices. This finding highlights how negative stereotypes that students might have associated with certain subjects or career paths can limit the potential career areas they’d explore.

What are the opportunities in STEM?

With employment in the technology sector growing by more than 30% over the last ten years in Ireland (at a time where overall employment grew by only 1%) and salaries in these companies coming in at 29% above the national average, now more than ever, we need to encourage students to look beyond negative stereotypes.

So, what can parents do?

The survey found 51% of college students said their parents influenced their decision making, and that they’d advised their son or daughter, based on what they thought would suit their personality.

So if a parent holds any stereotypes about science and maths themselves (“It’s too hard!” or “it’s not really for girls”) this can be picked up on and limit a student’s perceptions about what to consider. Especially important for those having CAO conversations!

Parents should try to look beyond any of their own fears or negative perceptions about STEM and encourage their children’s’ school to request a free career talk from people working in science, technology and engineering through Smart Futures where they can ask practical questions and see that all kinds of people work in everything from designing video games, to working with spacecraft and even helping save lives by detecting cancer. Volunteers can even attend parent-teacher evenings as well!

Too many students miss opportunities in STEM because they have no idea about what kind of work people in these roles do. By encouraging students to get involved in things like Science Week or free clubs like Coderdojo they can learn and explore all kinds of options and make more informed decisions. Parents can even join in the fun too and learn something new together!

We can only begin to imagine the jobs of the future – but solving some of our greatest problems (like renewable energy, sustainable food and ever increasing and aging populations) will need scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

Why should our children not lead the way with the skills to create a brighter, safer tomorrow?

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