Global challenges abound as the world’s population is predicted to reach 9 billion in 2050. Scientists are needed to solve serious issues like access to clean water, adequate healthcare, clean energy and a demand for raw materials that strains our world resources. To help tackle these problems, they have at their disposal an extraordinary array of technologies.
It sounds like the perfect career opportunity for Gen Z children, who want to make a difference in the world. But there’s a hitch. Too few are choosing science in school. In the US, for instance, according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16% of high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) career. Other countries may do better (in 2015 the US ranked 29th in math and 22nd in science among industrialized nations), but there is still a big gap.
Concerned by this gap, governments, schools, parents, NGOs and corporations all over the world are jointly grappling with the problem of how to make science an attractive and attainable career option for their young people.
Among the often-cited barriers are children’s lack of confidence, sometimes bordering on fear, around science subjects. Teachers who know how to overcome these fears are worth their weight in gold. In April, the winner and finalist of the Global Teacher Prize, Hanan Al Hroub, was widely praised for her special ability to bring play back into the classroom and to make learning fun.
Two of the top ten finalists were mathematics teachers – both committed to helping children see the power that a mastery of math could give them in their daily lives as well as in their careers. Maarit Rossi, from Finland, shook up traditional, competitive classroom learning to create team-based math experiences more related to real life. She encourages group discussion, and gets kids moving - going out to sub-zero temperatures to trace circles in the snow, or calculating the supplies to fill a food truck to sustain refugees.
Colin Hegarty, a Math teacher from the UK, has leveraged modern children’s technological aptitude to create tens of thousands of YouTube videos that simply and engagingly explain everything they need to know in their math curriculum. Children can access them whenever they need them, while Colin is able to monitor how they manage online tasks, then focusing lessons to deal with any problems.
As a company that owes its success to scientific prowess, 3M too is committed to making science more accessible and attractive to children.
Michael Stroik, who leads 3Mgives community investments, says: “3M has had a long-standing commitment to investing in STEM initiatives that make science interesting and relevant to young people. Our incredible scientists are helping to advance STEM achievement by serving as mentors to youth around the globe.”
Three activities aimed at putting the cool into science include:
3M also joined forces with Discovery Education on the Young Scientist Challenge, the premier science competition in the US for students in grades 5-8. Through the program, young inventors have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work closely with a 3M Scientist Mentor, compete for $25,000, and earn the title of “America's Top Young Scientist.”
Participants work on projects that can have a real impact on people’s lives. In 2015, winning themes included energy from ocean currents, autism, allergies and distraction.
Everyone – parents, teachers and grandparents alike – can play an important role in helping children enjoy rather than fear STEM subjects.
According to Mahfuza Ali, Corporate Scientist at 3M and a mentor in the 3M Discovery Young Scientist Challenge, the trick is to provide encouragement and access to resources without being too overwhelming.
“If you’re not a math or science whiz yourself, small things like doing home experiments or buying them subscriptions to science magazines can fan their curiosity,” she advises.
Other tips are: