Students lacking interest in science

(Graphic by Steph Truong)

A diminishing lack of student interest in science could have negative implications for future job markets, according to Spotlight on Science Learning: A Benchmark of Canadian Talent, a report examining youth engagement with science.

The report reflected in part a study commissioned by Amgen Canada and charitable organization Let’s Talk Science which evaluated student interest in science, technology, engineering and math, while also exploring performance ratings, whether the value of this type of learning is understood and how this will impact future job needs. The Angus Reid study revealed that from ages 12 and 13, to ages 17 and 18, interest in science falls by 20 per cent. Additionally, 39 per cent of students reported expectations that science would not be relevant to their future careers.

Bonnie Schmidt, the president of Let’s Talk Science, said the report was intended as a way to invoke “a national discussion on the kinds of learning opportunities we want our young people … to be able to experience.”

She explained, “We look forward into the next ten and 20 years [and] it’s become very clear that increasing numbers of jobs that are being projected do require a background in science and mathematics, and if we’re going to take a look at the people who are going to be ready to embrace those jobs a decade out, they’re in school now.”

Schmidt regards the issue as one with a highly complex array of contributing factors. While families have a role to play in understanding the importance of these subjects, she said, the onus is also on schools to provide sufficient learning opportunities for students.

“We need a better dialogue, I think, between work and education to ensure people understand where and why, what’s the relevance of it,” she added.

“I think students to a certain degree are wising up about the idea of going to college, or more so, going to university, is not necessarily seen, I think, as a means to an end, as much as it was, anymore,” countered Zach Dayler, the national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). “So what you’re seeing is students being a little bit more strategic.”

He acknowledged, however, that there is a general recognition from students in the advantage of pursuing studies which contribute to the development of “applicable skills” rather than solely for the advent of knowledge.

While the report did not make any particular recommendations, others have suggested increasing the amount of compulsory science classes for high school students. Only two years of science are required, compared to a mandatory four years of English.

“Mandatory is always a tough word because you have to give people the freedom to explore themselves … you never want to stifle the pursuit,” Dayler considered.

Government funding toward science, technology and finance, “Has a higher likelihood of probably yielding better financial results in the innovation sector than probably investing in other areas, so for the government it’s an idea of investing in something that’s going to contribute and build your labour force,” Dayer noted.

“Investing in the arts, while it does a lot to service the community and great innovations and wonderful things can come out of it, it’s not necessarily the most direct way to maybe put people in a job.”

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