As Greta Thunberg inspires children across the globe to wonder about the natural world around them, TEDx speaker and founder of science subscription company, The Curiosity Box, Renée Watson, predicts that the ‘Greta Effect’ has the potential to drive more UK children towards STEM subjects.
The UK is currently experiencing a STEM skills shortage which costs the country an average £1.5bn per year, and it’s a problem that doesn’t appear to be going away. A recent survey of over 9,000 pupils aged 10/11yrs showed that even though the vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, less than 17% aspire to a career in science and after this age, children’s science attitudes start to decline* alongside a further diminishing of science aspirations.
Many believe that a preoccupation with SATS, which focus on Maths and English, could be discouraging youngsters from engaging with STEM subjects. Meanwhile the government itself admits that only a handful of schools and colleges are taking steps to put technology at the heart of the classroom.***
However, Watson, who was named by Melinda Gates as one of six women in STEM to watch in 2018 and is speaking at TEDxAthens next month, questions whether the solution is much simpler, predicting that by embracing the ‘Greta Effect’, which is rooted in ‘a right to wonder’, UK schools could drive up STEM engagement.
To date, Thunberg has inspired millions across the globe to wonder about the future of the world we live in, with thousands of children taking time out of school to protest against climate change inaction. Thunberg developed her interest in climate change when she was nine years old, as she began to wonder about the world around her: “They were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food,” she commented to the New Yorker. “I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it
and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.”
It is this curiosity about the world around her that Watson believes has fuelled the ‘Greta Effect’ and inspired so many children to take to the streets. And it is the amplification of the right to wonder that she believes could be the answer to the UK’s STEM skills shortage, particularly amongst girls and women as Thunberg inadvertently flies the flag for girls engaging with science.
Watson believes that if we can encourage youngers to be more curious and to embrace the discovery of the science in their everyday lives, then we can increase participation in science at higher levels and fuel the take up of careers in STEM-related industries.
Watson, champions a move away from test-led classrooms and back to celebrating a child’s innate inquisitive nature through curiosity-led learning, as curiosity makes us feel good. By being curious about a subject we break down the perceptions of it being boring, inaccessible and too hard – it becomes something that is just a part of life. Watson believes that if schools hone in on children’s innate kinaesthetic, hands-on, curiosity about the world around them, then they can get them to see the world through the lens of science and a passion for the subject can be unlocked and this is what she believes is at the heart of the ‘Greta Effect’.
Says Watson: “Every person in the world has a legal right to wonder, thanks to the 1948 Human Rights Act which states that we all have the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. However, unlocking this right to wonder sits right at the heart of the UK’s STEM skill shortage, as the current system doesn’t allow for curiosity-led learning.
“Greta Thunberg has demonstrated that if children are allowed to wonder about the world around them, and see the science in their everyday lives, then a love of science can be ignited. The challenge now is to acknowledge that right to wonder and apply it within our schools to drive the take-up of STEM subjects and careers.”
Renée Watson regularly works with schools to improve careers provision and champion the scope for career in STEM. She is the founder of Curiosity Box – a subscription service box of themed, science based fun bursting with experiments, activities and collectables which arrives through the letterbox, monthly. She is on the bill at TEDxAthens on 1st June, with a talk on ‘Is curiosity the secret to a wonder-filled life?’