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Report – Engineering Change

Posted on: Tuesday 11 July 2017 11:00am

With a number of new shows and initiatives encouraging girls to become interested in engineering and STEM-based careers, a panel of producers discussed the main issues and talked about their future plans

Takeaway:

  • The UK is the worst country in the EU for channeling girls into STEM careers. There is likely to be a huge shortage of engineers in the UK and over 1m more are needed by 2024
  • Gender stereotypes are formed young so we need to get to the audience from pre-school up
  • Whilst there is great work already being done, there needs to be greater collaboration across industry and broadcasting to make a visible difference

Detail:

As a schoolgirl who glazed over every time someone mentioned kinetic energy or Pythagoras’s theory, I was extremely interested to hear how broadcasters were finding new ways to engage young girls in STEM subjects in this lively session.

Host Violet Berlin, Script Writer and Narrative Designer, opened the session with a trip down memory lane showing clips from the science-based shows she used to present and which inspired girls to take up science based careers.

Helen Heggie, STEMFirst Consultant, outlined the extent of the problem here in the UK. The UK is the bottom of the pile in the EU when it comes to women working in STEM areas – with females making up less than 9% of the engineering workforce. In addition 0.6% of girls at age 11 will go on to study a technical subject at university, and the figure for boys isn’t much better.

Helen warned that this would have huge repercussions for the future. Engineers and scientists are behind everything we do and, with an ageing population starting to retire, we are going to need 1.5 million more by 2024, just to keep the fundamentals of life going. With technology constantly developing, it is likely that 60% of the current UK school population will go on to do jobs that do not currently exist!

Helen also pointed out that stereotypes are formed at a very young age. She cited an experiment where 61 young school children were asked to draw a firefighter, a surgeon and a fighter pilot. Only five of the pictures depicted women. Children’s choices and opinions are formed at a very young age so kids need positive role models – they need to see people like them.

Next Vanessa Amberleigh, Executive Producer, CBeebies, talked about CBeebies’ new STEM based show ‘Bitz and Bob’. She talked about how they were using a positive role model – a little girl to inspire other little girls. She outlined the mechanisms they were using to make the principles simple and for children to see how they could find solutions. And she said they were working closely with engineering experts including Helen to ensure the engineering principles were applicable to real life.

Vanessa pointed to the companion show ‘You Can Do it Too’ as a great tool for engagement, where real children could experiment with engineering. It was her great hope that a girl would come up to her in 15 years and say she had been inspired by ‘Bitz and Bob’.

There was also great work going on at Turner and Lesley Bailey, VP, Channel Marketing & Brand Manager, Kids, Turner EMEA, outlined the work they were doing in terms of creativity in coding around Power Puff Girls. Lesley explained how series one’s theme was that girls are underestimated and that with teamwork and sisterhood the girls worked how to code, thereby saving the internet and the world. She outlined how Turner had partnered with Scratch for free coding tutorial and partnered with Google on a special event that brought together several organisations to teach coding. And she pointed to their global app Glitch Fixers, which gives kids the chance to learn coding, which had already received 6.4 million downloads this year!

Finally Sandie Dinning, Head of Strategy and Planning at Zinc Media, talked about the future. She pointed out that everything had to be joined up and collaborative. Industry, not-for-profit organisations and commercial companies are all going in the same direction but we need to work together to engage with communities, drive behaviour change, start earlier and inspire and motivate. She said that corporate money was out there and that digital media was providing opportunities to create engaging content like never before.

I think it’s probably too late for this old dog to learn new tricks but I came away feeling optimistic for the young female scientists and engineers of the future!

By Guest Blogger Valerie Taylor

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