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The Science Capital in Our Communities

November 10, 2017

By Clare James, Fundraising Manager

The term “science capital” is a handy concept used to explain why some children are more likely than others to take up STEM subjects and careers when they grow up. You can find out more about science capital in this extremely useful and incredibly short video:

 
I possess very little science capital. Neither of my parents worked in the STEM sector and my maths and science lessons were dry and boring (sorry Mr Hewitt).

To be fair, my mother tried her best but the ZX Spectrum I received for Christmas in 1982 did not go down well. With no one around to help establish the significance of my new toy, I swore from an early age that I would never buy a computer.

Similarly, my initial enthusiasm for my chemistry set was short-lived due to my inability, at eight years of age, to understand its relevance to my life, which was focused in those days on arts and crafts and reading novels about precocious, crime-solving children and their dogs.

Luckily, I inherited my father’s artistic talents and there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of “art capital” because your ZX Spectrum’s not going to help you decorate your new house, is it?

Fast forward to 1997 and my studies dictated I buy my own PC. Fast further forward to 2017 and I’m typing away on one device whilst checking my smartphone, whilst looking forward to reading my Kindle when I get to bed, where I will later dream about owning an EV (Tesla Model X, of course).

My current reads include a book about the engineering and architectural feat which was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and Deep Thinking by Garry Kasparov. As for shopping, I’m afraid if Amazon or eBay don’t have it, I probably don’t want it.

Only now, with all this talk about science capital have I re-evaluated my academic choices. After all, this latent interest in engineering and technology could have resulted in great things. I could have been a brilliant architect or engineer, or a famous ecologist…maybe there’s still time! Probably not.

Affordable, omnipresent technology has helped me get up to speed but pursuing STEM career requires more than just a consumer’s desire for the latest iPhone.

How did I grow up under the assumption that science was not relevant to me? Probably because no one around me was excited about science and my science lessons in school came from a text book, with minimal hands-on activities.

Unfortunately, not much has changed. We know from our work with schools across Wales that many primary school teachers in Wales do not have a good understanding of science and lessons in some schools are limited to one hour per week.

In fact, a written request in 2014 from (then) Education Minister Huw Lewis to Welsh Labour AM David Rees, stated that the number of primary teachers with a degree in the three main sciences totalled only 164 out of more than 14,000 teachers.

Whilst secondary schools have expert science teachers, they don’t have the resources to deliver those all-important practical science lessons.[1]

This is where Techniquest comes in. In 2016/17 our Science Communicators engaged with 145,000 pupils in Wales, providing young people with excellent STEM role models. Through both in-reach to our science discovery centre and outreach at schools across Wales, we support teachers to deliver STEM subjects in a fun and engaging way.

We are able to do this thanks to the generosity of our funders who provide us with the means to reach pupils living in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Wales.

More recently a sweeping organisational culture change has resulted in a new approach to audience engagement and diversification. The concept of science capital has shifted our focus towards reaching whole communities because (as borne out by my own experience) mums and dads play a key role in embedding science into their children’s lives, hence opening them up to their STEM potential and future career possibilities.

The STEM arena has the power to transform how people learn, work and live in the future.  The next generation will be crucial to how Wales competes in this field on an international level.

As an educational charity, we are committed to ensuring that Wales develops a scientifically literate society through interactive STEM engagement.

We are committed to supporting the development of the Welsh economy by inspiring the next generation of Welsh scientists.

With such a varied and rewarding career path, we’re passionate about encouraging young people in Wales to choose a career in STEM.

If you are a community group we would love to share our evolving Audience Engagement Strategy with you and find out how Techniquest can better meet the needs of your community.

Please contact me, Clare James, if you’d like to participate in our work or find out what happened to the Junior Microscope I received for my 7th birthday.


[1] A recent report from The Wellcome Trust found that poorer pupils in England miss out on practical science lessons. (Source)