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There are social and cultural issues around that. That lack of confidence sets in at a very early age, so we need to do more to intervene at a much earlier age to turn that around.
I hope that I am not overdramatising the issue. It is crucial to provide that confidence, through giving our teachers and early years staff the ability to enthuse our youngsters to such an extent that they see STEM as a fantastic option with great opportunities for their future.
What more can we learn about the gender imbalance issue, which is a concern for a number of members? The committee correctly focused in on the issue in order to bring it to our attention once more. A few weeks ago, I welcomed a group of school students from Dundee to the Parliament, all of whom were bright and enthusiastic about developing a career in software development. All of them were males—with not a single female among them.
We know the social, cultural and stereotyping issues—science is for the boys, as are engineering and oily rag pursuits—and that we have to keep working on that. I had to laugh at one of the comments from Talat Yaqoob and Toni Scullion, who lamented that they had seen an attempt to make chemistry attractive to females through a demonstration of how to make perfume.
As usual, I am indebted to East Ayrshire Council for providing me with a little insight into the region’s STEM agenda. The children get to engage with STEM experiences both indoors and—increasingly—outdoors, in all the region’s early childhood centres. Community engagement works well there too, and local STEM ambassadors from Spirit AeroSystems are involved. There is a lot to be proud of across all the East Ayrshire communities.
The committee is to be congratulated on its wide-ranging and thoughtful report, which touches on the many issues that we face—on confidence building, resourcing, equality of access and the continuing issue of attracting more females into science. The Scottish Government has put in place really good initiatives, and there is really good practice in East Ayrshire. The report is a welcome acknowledgement that there is much more work to do to take the STEM agenda forward.