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Committee Announcement (Education and Skills Committee)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th November 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item of business is a committee announcement. I call the convener of the Education and Skills Committee, Clare Adamson.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

Today, the Education and Skills Committee published its “Report on STEM in early years education”. I appreciate the opportunity to highlight some of its findings to Parliament this afternoon.

I thank the 50 secondary 1 girls who took part in the hackathon on the committee’s report here in Parliament this morning. It was one of many events that are aimed at imploding the myth that computing careers are not for girls. There was so much talent in the room, and what they produced to promote the committee’s recommendations was phenomenal.

The committee decided to focus its inquiry on three to seven-year-olds because, in early fact-finding evidence, it was suggested to us that young people as young as seven have set ideas about the jobs that they can or cannot do because of their gender, ethnicity or social circumstances. The committee is aware that that is a longstanding and systemic issue. We are also aware that for the kind of inclusive economic growth that is needed for the fourth industrial revolution, progress is needed in uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

The committee’s inquiry therefore looked at what work makes a real impact, including scrutinising progress towards the aims of the Scottish Government’s 2017 STEM strategy. Improving teacher and early learning practitioner confidence in the STEM disciplines is key, particularly in the disciplines of technology and engineering. The committee heard, from practitioners in those areas, consistent evidence of a lack of confidence.

We also learned that, in some schools, poor internet connectivity is a barrier to teaching computing and other disciplines. In addition, the committee heard that limited resources have meant that some teachers and parents pay for materials that are needed for lessons.

When we looked at differences of opportunity based on levels of deprivation or gender, we found that sustained long-term interventions in nurseries and schools that extend out to the local community are crucial in making meaningful change.

We also heard about a myriad of STEM initiatives. The challenge is to ensure that the work of talented and motivated people who are keen to promote STEM can, in time, translate into STEM learning being core to the education of all children and young people in Scotland. For example, we heard that small initiatives are often based in the central belt and do not have the resources to undertake work further afield, in rural areas. In addition, there is sometimes a self-selection bias, whereby only schools and nurseries that are already interested in STEM seek learning experiences from such initiatives.

Finally, we heard about the value of interdisciplinary learning, including in supporting improving literacy skills, numeracy skills and other core elements of the curriculum.

The committee has made a series of recommendations for change—some for the Scottish Government, some for Education Scotland and some for our regional improvement collaboratives. Given the importance and relevance of the issues that the committee has been grappling with, I hope that members from across Parliament have an opportunity to look at our recommendations.