Comment: Teaching STEM skills to help Scotland meet 21st century needs

Ann McKechin, executive officer and a trustee of the ScottishPower Foundation, looks at its work to help realise Scotland's potential as a pioneer in innovation.
The organisation's initiatives include teaming up with National Museums Scotland. Picture: contributed.The organisation's initiatives include teaming up with National Museums Scotland. Picture: contributed.
The organisation's initiatives include teaming up with National Museums Scotland. Picture: contributed.

Scotland has changed its own future and the world’s through innovation. From transformational inventions such as the telephone, steam engine and TV to scientific discoveries like penicillin, insulin and cloning, we have a proud heritage in this area.

Today, innovation remains at the heart of our manufacturing industries and is the lifeblood of fast-growing digital technology businesses across Scotland. Industry relies on forward-thinking, great ideas and a strong talent pipeline. In this fast-changing landscape, future success relies on the next generation of scientists, technicians and engineers coming through our schools, colleges and universities.

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That’s why science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and training have never been so important. Last year, the Scottish Government pledged to increase the number of STEM teachers in schools by 2022 as studies continue to flag a lack of curiosity and interest in STEM disciplines amongst secondary school pupils, particularly among girls.

The focus and skills requirements of the technology and science industries change quickly, and teachers of STEM are challenged with describing a rapidly evolving vision of what our future world looks like for their students. Jobs that simply didn’t exist five years ago are now competitive roles for young job-seekers. Scotland’s teachers are at the forefront of embedding inspiration in the STEM discipline from an early age and preparing students for the world of work when they graduate.

This is one of the reasons that the ScottishPower Foundation, in its charitable support for education, has focused on supporting Scottish students and helping their teachers better understand the challenges we face in the 21st century.

Since it was formed in 2013, the ScottishPower Foundation has supported education across the UK from early years to adulthood, through its Masters degree scholarships programme and by backing innovative projects targeted at inspiring schoolchildren both inside and outside the classroom.

For the last five years, we have developed a fantastic partnership with National Museums Scotland (NMS), who not only care for collections of national and international importance, but are committed to interpreting them so they can make the past and present accessible to as many people as possible. We’ve helped them to extend this work by forming new relationships with schools, and in particular with classroom teachers, across the country.

With funding from the ScottishPower Foundation, NMS has launched Powering Up, a pioneering programme of science and engagement workshops and initiatives that takes its incredible collections out of the walls of a national institution and into the hands of the students in local communities. The programme is positioned to deliver both practical hands-on experiences and multi-generational engagement. Above all, it provides educational tools to the schools and teachers who live in more remote communities and those who find it difficult to access such stimulating resources.

Since it was launched in 2017, Powering Up has visited three local sites across Scotland, including New Lanark World Heritage Site, the National Mining Museum Scotland in Newtongrange and the Scottish Maritime Museum – Denny Tank in Dumbarton. It has proactively targeted 11 harder-to-reach schools from areas of multiple deprivation through 60 Powering Up workshops and museum visits, reaching more than 450 students aged nine to 11.

Investing in our teachers, supporting them with engaging educational resources and finding new ways to inspire Scotland’s young people to explore STEM subjects is essential to prepare our children for a fast-changing future.

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By encouraging young people to nurture their talents in STEM, we hope we can continue to realise Scotland’s potential as a country at the forefront of innovation.

The ScottishPower Foundation was established to make a significant and lasting contribution to society and enhance the lives of people living in communities throughout the UK. It provides funding to registered charities involved in the advancement of education, environmental protection, citizenship and community development, and it supports non-profit organisations working in science, the arts, heritage or culture, as well as the prevention of poverty and relief of disability or other disadvantage. This year, it will support 17 charitable projects to deliver events, information or campaigns that directly benefit people living in their local communities or regions. Activities on its agenda this year have included Futureproof, a series of theatre productions created by young people with the support of the National Theatre of Scotland, and a continuation of National Museums Scotland’s STEM learning programme.