By Clare Sweeney
WORKING in early childhood education there is a need to update resources to ensure they are relevant to the modern world. I recently came across an outdated illustration of a Southeast Asian character in a textbook – the resource was thrown away, just as the stereotype used should be confined to the dustbin of history.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to overlook anachronistic and equally harmful representations. Another book featured an illustration of a fire station and its crew of six, all white and male.
How are young girls supposed to imagine themselves in certain professions if they don’t see women in those roles?
This is one of the big barriers to encouraging women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions. According to Scottish Government figures, in 2018 only 19% of Scottish engineers and 10% of senior managers in Stem professions were women. Although female representation is improving thanks to the work of organizations like Equate Scotland, it is far too low.
The 2020 Logan Report – commissioned by the Scottish Government to examine how Scotland’s tech sector can contribute to post-pandemic recovery – called for improvements in education to help develop talent at school and university . This must include the fight against the under-representation of women which begins in the early years.
Girls need to see people like them in roles they can aspire to. Field trips to STEM environments and visits to STEM professional schools are essential, but have declined post-pandemic. It will take a concerted effort to establish substantial exposure of the early years at Stem.
We need to allow children to approach these subjects early. At Kelvinside Academy, we are fortunate to have the world’s first NuVu X School of Innovation – a project developed by a team of MIT graduates where young people take a problem-based approach to learning more applicable to the real world . It gives our early childhood learners access to industry-grade equipment and expertise to experience science and technology in meaningful and hands-on ways.
However, facilities like this aren’t the only way to make an impact – taking kids to visit labs, research projects or factories; encouraging women working in STEM to come talk to our young children; and taking an advanced approach to science in the early years are equally effective and accessible to all schools.
Our students learn coding during the early years. This will be an essential skill for the jobs of the future. Even if they don’t use it in their career, it incorporates computational thinking. Subjects are just words. If a child can learn that a banana is a banana, he can learn that an algorithm is an algorithm.
STEM qualifications should be part of early childhood workforce training. The effect will take years – that’s why it has to start now. If we don’t update our teaching methods and approach around STEM and the representation of women within it in the early years, they too will seem as out of place as the outdated images of outdated textbooks – and just as damaging.
Clare Sweeney is Principal of Primary School at Kelvinside Academy, home of the world’s first NuVu X School of Innovation.