by Tabitha Jenkins
Tuesday 11th September 2018, saw the 3rd All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM hosted by the British Science Association and chaired by Chi Onwurah MP. The meeting focused on regional disparity and heard evidence from Mhairi McCann and Anna Round. The group focused on harnessing the local knowledge of citizens and scientists to assess different areas of the UK that are excluded from STEM and propose improvements.
Mhairi, a 19 year old scientist and Scottish ambassador of the Young Scientists Journal explained about her deprived scientific exposure. With limited options, relying on a poor consortium with other schools to learn science, she developed her love of science outside the classroom. She spoke about the limitations when many science events and work experience opportunities occur in big cities as they are difficult to access for those in more secluded and rural areas. She works with the Young Scientists Journal, an international peer-reviewed science journal written by students aged 12–20, to try and highlight that ‘distance has no boundaries’, the journal gives people the opportunity from all over the world to come together and communicate science, highlighting that distance and location shouldn’t hinder science. Mhairi also campaigns for a need to relate learning to your locality and allow flexibility to use the resources available.
Next up was Anna Round, a senior research fellow at IPPR North, looking at the cultural attitudes to STEM across the UK. She believes that STEM needs to be embedded into everyday life, and that there is a need to change the attitude towards STEM and mainstream science. She discussed the economic value of STEM and how regional disparity could result in the loss of scientific potential, and that there is a risk of losing regional potential in the North of the UK. Anna championed the need for ‘career maps’ and discussed the importance of role models in providing students inspiration, a pathway and a set of steps to find the opportunities and achieve the careers they want.
Unusually, the third speaker was the ‘online voice’. The meeting was opened up with an online forum, receiving comments from people who were unable to attend due to a variety of reasons. This accessibility really highlighted directly the problems that arise from regional disparity. A call for a “skills agenda not a subject agenda” to learn a range of science was proposed. Contributors highlighted the challenges facing school science education and discussed the problems in attracting highly skilled teachers to remote areas. Another suggestion was the use of “little explosion” events in the counties ‘cold spots’ of scientific events to try and bridge the gap between regions.
Some examples of comments heard digitally from people over the UK.
The root problem was directed at the curriculum by an ex-science teacher commenting that it’s “not through lack of effort and enthusiasm of the teachers, there is an expectation of teachers to follow a curriculum and time is very valuable”.
There is a need to open up the opportunities of science; projects that already do this, including ‘microscopy in a suitcase’, SMASHFEST and Ignite which aim to take science to more remote areas. The general consensus suggested more was needed to be done to reduce this regional disparity in STEM across the UK and increase access to all. A call for co-design of events and resources by including the students and teachers in the decision making of events became a prominent point of the meeting. Mhairi excellently summarised this using a cake metaphor- students want to be the flour, not the sprinkles, they need to be a fundamental part of making the cake, not a final addition that isn’t essential.
This great meeting looked at some of the major issues associated with regional disparity within STEM, drawing experience and expertise from those at its centre. Solutions are needed to tackle these underlining problems, both fundamentally and to break the gap.
Keep up to date with the APPG meetings on diversity and inclusion in stem via the British Science Association website and come along to the next meeting on the 3rd December.
This meeting really highlighted the fact that there is regional disparity when it comes to STEM opportunities and that it is important to ensure that science engages and inspires the people and students in those areas.
The Biochemical Society is committed to promoting diversity across science and offer up to £500 to support projects or events that address issues relating to diversity in science. You can find out more and apply for the Diversity in Science grants on our website.
I am a PhD student at the University of Nottingham studying helicases in DNA repair. I am currently working at the Biochemical Society with the public engagement and education department. I really enjoy talking about science (any and all science) with the public and would love to see changes in STEM education.