With business chiefs and education leaders expressing concerns about the lack of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills among our young people, Science Starz could be the key to the solution.
Science Starz is a social enterprise founded by Rose McMurrough and Elita Frid, which aims to increase primary pupils’ knowledge and interest in science. Rose and Elita use experiments, games, songs and puppet shows in their classroom-based workshops to show the children that science can be fun.
According to industry chiefs, there are not enough STEM graduates in Northern Ireland.
Belfast mother-of-four Rose believes the answer lies in introducing children to science at a young age. She believes that too many children are intimidated by science and technology when they start secondary school.
“Science is pushed in secondary but there is no experience in primary,” she says.
For Elita it’s all about showing children that they do not need to be intimidated by science and demonstrating to children that science is all around them.
“We want to familiarise children with science so that it doesn’t seem like a foreign subject,” she says adding that the workshops are geared to the children’s level, whether they be in nursery or primary.
Rose believes that a more holistic approach to education is required.
“Teachers can feel the pressure to teach children to the transfer test with the focus on literacy and numeracy. If a child gets an A in their transfer test then they are already starting off with the equivalent of a C in GCSE Maths and English, but in science they are expected to jump from an E to a B or an A but there is no baseline there. If we could increase the baseline that children start secondary school with, then we can ignite a wider interest in science.”
A former science teacher with an infectious enthusiasm for science and 15 years’ experience in the classroom, Rose believes that science needs to be given a greater priority in early education.
It’s a view shared by Northern Ireland’s Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). In its evaluation of the implementation of The World Around Us (WAU) in primary schools, the ETI flagged up the provision for science and technology education as an area for concern.
The survey found that 33 per cent of schools do not know if their staff members have sufficient knowledge and skills to teach science. This contrasts with other strands of WAU where 94 per cent believe they have sufficient knowledge and skills to teach history and 94 per cent geography.
In the report published last year the ETI concluded that: “The science and technology strand of the WAU is still underdeveloped in a majority (54 per cent) of primary schools.”
Many of the schools surveyed cited a lack of time and training as two of the reasons why targets in science and technology were not being met. The concerns have also been raised by the Northern Ireland Assembly. In a research paper published last year for the education committee, to address the decline in the interest in STEM subjects and the lack of confidence among many primary teachers in relation to teaching science, it was reported that only 35.8 per cent of GCSE entries were in STEM Subjects in the school year 2013/14 – the last year for which data is available. At ‘A’ Level, entries in STEM are only slightly higher at 41 per cent but attract mostly male students.
Rose and Elita believe Science Starz can help with this problem.
“We want to add value to what the teacher is already doing. We have made some of workshops topic-related so that they tie in to the curriculum and what the children are already being taught,” Rose says.
“We have been to classrooms that have some equipment but it is just gathering dust because the teachers do not know how to use it – we can help with that.”
Rose is also keen to stress that there is the “novelty factor of someone coming into your class for the day, for teachers already burdened with a heavy workload,” meaning there is little preparation or tidying up for the teachers and classroom assistants.
“It’s a novelty for the kids too,” Rose says. “They get to put on a lab coat and be a scientist for the day.”
Rose and Elita are aiming for an official launch in September but have already had a lot of positive feedback from some of the schools across the north that have taken part in Science Starz pilot sessions.
“The well-planned session had the children excited and engaged from start to finish,” a Facebook post from St Michael’sNursery in west Belfast read.
Another satisfied customer was Naoiscoil Uachtar Tire in Castlewellan, Co Down, which posted:
“A very educational and enjoyable experience for all the children. Excellent delivery of age-appropriate science.”
Elita, who is originally from Canada, is also keen to point out that another important aspect of Science Starz is that it is a social enterprise. With the help of Belfast-based business support charity Ortus, Elita and Rose have acquired funding, advice and an online presence. As full-time mums they are all too familiar with the time constraints of raising a family and the difficulty this presents when trying to get back into the workplace.
Elita, who has been living in Northern Ireland for 10 years, has a background in business and she and Rose are very keen to help other women in similar positions to themselves by inviting others to join them and expanding their enterprise.
“Sometimes the options out there for parents returning to work or study are quite limited and a bit patronising,” Rose says.
“Ultimately we’re a social enterprise,” Elita says. “And another aim of ours is to help other women like ourselves – mums who have taken time out to raise their families – to get back to work.
“We also want to develop a way to engage more parents in the workshops,” Rose says. “We want to give back some of that help that we’ve received.”
Follow Science Starz on Twitter and Facebook or visit the website at www.sciencestarz.com