Parents Put Children Off STEM

Can we blame parents for a lack of interest in STEM?

It’s far too easy to blame parents for things. Sometimes this can be justified and sometimes they are just very convenient scapegoats. It’s the same for teachers too.

Parents and teachers are normally the first to get blamed.

Attitudes and expectations help shape learning behaviour and so if we are positive, full of gusto and always aiming high then it rubs off.

However, when this isn’t the case it can have a major impact on children’s abilities and aspirations.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) are concerned about the lack of parental confidence when it comes to talking about STEM subjects. In their recent study, 80.5% of parents said they relied on Google to answer their children’s homework. I don’t think that is particularly surprising and at least there is some honesty here!

But the IET are right to be concerned though because the negative and fixed mindsets of some parents is influencing what their children say and do. For example, the study found that 43% of parents have heard their children say ‘I’m rubbish at Maths and “Interestingly, it’s mums who find Maths the most challenging – 42% have trouble helping with Maths homework, compared with 28% of dads.”

Worryingly, over a quarter (26%) of parents of school age children (5-18) agree that their own lack of confidence in STEM has affected their children’s proficiency in this area.

It’s not the only study to say this.  In 2017, Tabcorp commissioned Galaxy Research to do a national study of more than 1000 Australians aged 20 to 35 and found 65% say their parents influenced their choice to study or work in STEM. Only 31 per cent said their parents inspired them to go ahead into a STEM career.

Here’s the really frightening things – around 50% of those working in STEM said that someone had tried to convince them not to pursue a career in STEM, including a relative other than their mother or father (15%), a school careers counsellor/teacher (15%) and a friend (14%).

What we need are planned classroom visits, family nights and STEM parent training – a sort of CPD for parents. We also need to catch them early and start talking about careers from the age of five.

Education and Employers are working hard for young people and it is their mission to help inspire them “by giving them the opportunity to meet people doing a range of exciting careers to discuss why they love what they do and what educational route they took to achieve it.”

They need help to teach their children so they can learn how to question them and  experiment with the world. In my experience, many parents would welcome the opportunity to learn and do more themselves – many wouldn’t be able to tell you what STEM actually stands for.

Clearly more needs to be done to engage, excite and inspire children about the opportunities STEM can bring and we all have to be mindful of what we say. The IET are particularly keen to smash the stereotypes associated with STEM as something for boys – quite worrying when they found in a 2014 study that just 1% of parents want their daughters to be engineers.

Take a look at their video and share it widely.

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