Ann McKechin: We've come up with a formula to inspire the next generation of experts

Education in all of its different forms has been under pretty intense scrutiny of late, whether it be in the increasingly frequent reports of teacher shortages, the ongoing debate around the daunting costs of university study or the continuing battle to narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor.

Its vital to encourage young peoples interest in science. Picture: Neil Hanna

It’s clear that these are issues of concern not only for students and their parents, but for everyone in society. The challenge for the charitable sector is how it can make a positive impact and at the same time encourage innovative new methods of engagement.

Since it was formed in 2013, the ScottishPower Foundation has been committed to supporting education for young people across the UK through both in its own masters degree scholarship programme and its backing of a number of innovative projects targeted at inspiring school children both inside and outside the classroom.

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To give you a flavour of what that actually means in practical terms, this year the foundation has invested more than £600,000 to fund a record 27 student places at seven UK universities – including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde – in masters degree courses which we hope will allow some of the country’s brightest students to progress in the energy and environment industry.

That investment and support means that this group of students at least can focus on their education without the added burden of financial hardship.

The reason is straightforward. As a charitable foundation we want to identify and support talented young men and women who will be at the vanguard of the next generation of experts tasked with developing new solutions to the challenge of climate change.

We also understand that the development of talent starts at the very earliest years and there are many different and complex factors that influence children’s choices. That’s one of the reasons we have been working with a range of partners in the wider educational sector across Scotland.

Last year we supported the new Energise gallery at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh which showcases world class collections of science and technology, including a hydrogen-powered car, and for the truly energetic, a child-sized hamster wheel which measures power output.

By introducing pupils to the practical applications of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the form of wind turbine design and wave, hydro and tidal technology we hope to inspire more children about the opportunities that exist in these fast developing sectors.

Meanwhile, we are also supporting STEM workshops at the Engineering Education Centre based at Dumfries House in Ayrshire which aims to inform not only children and their parents but also develop professional practice for teachers so they have greater confidence about promoting this issue in the classroom.

We’ve also been a funder over the last few years to the Children’s University Scotland to enable them to reach their goal of operating in 80 per cent of Scottish local authorities by the end of the 2019/20 academic year.

The organisation’s critically acclaimed programme delivers vital extra-curricular education and personal development to children from 5 to 14 years.

Likewise, we are delighted to be this year the first charity to form a partnership with the Advanced Higher Hub based at Glasgow Caledonian University.

In just a few years, the Hub has achieved record results for children from the most under-represented communities across Glasgow by providing them with access to the Advanced Higher study required for the most prestigious university courses, particularly in STEM related subjects.

Without the Hub, many schools in the city would find it difficult, if not impossible, to provide the range of subjects which high-achieving teenagers now require for university entry. Our funding of £50,000 will support 40 pupils in two new classes in chemistry and biology.

As a charity we hope that targeting our funding on good quality and progressive educational interventions will not only inspire and challenge our next generation to fulfil their potential but help to support the search for better ways to meet our society’s educational needs.

Ann McKechin is head of corporate social responsibility at ScottishPower