“A Crisis in Education” is an eye-catching, if not alarming title, for a talk. Fortunately, Antonia Giovanazzi, from the National Mathematics and Science College in the UK, had a solution as well as a problem.
Speaking before a packed lecture hall at the Beijing International School Expo 2018, Giovanazzi identified a global shortage of STEM graduates as the crisis in the making. Giovanazzi talked about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects in the 21st century: from aerospace engineering to nanotechnology, nuclear physics to biomechanics.
“They affect virtually every component of our everyday lives,” she said. “The entire economy revolves around maths; sustainable energy and nuclear power are also steeped in the sciences. There are jobs which are among the highest paid and with the greatest potential for growth. Yet currently globally only one percent of graduates go into STEM-related fields.”
“Science drives innovation drives the economy,” Giovanazzi said, talking about the importance of STEM to key areas such as climate change, energy efficiency, and resource sustainability. “Science is about people and we need to recruit the best.”
She added that it was important to focus especially on girls, where they are still under-represented in the field of research. Giovanazzi presented a slide of 20 UK universities at the cutting edge of STEM teaching and research.
“If you’re a serious student in science and maths,” she said, “you want to be going to one of these universities in the UK. But what are these universities really looking for?”
The answer, she said, was not just top grades and hard work. Universities were also looking for a “genuine passion for subject and intellectual curiosity to pursue it further; higher order thinking skills; ‘stickability’; the ability and confidence to question the accepted norm; and acceptance that there is not always a right answer!” They were looking for students to “apply and challenge knowledge rather than acquire it.”
Giovanazzi gave examples of genuine university interview questions, such as “are there too many people in the world?”
“No textbook is going to give you the answer,” she said. “The textbook can give you facts about world population, but this question requires you to think and have an informed opinion.”
She went on to talk about the National Mathematics and Science College, and how they are connected to this style of learning.
The College is located in Coventry, UK: home, as Giovanazzi described it, to “the jet engine, Jaguar Landrover, and world-class universities.” They have students from China, Russia, England and the UAE, all of whom are boarding, in a hall of residence or with a family.
Students not only receive teaching in STEM subjects from highly-qualified teachers who are still connected to research, but they also study drama in association with a professional theater company and take part in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, which develops skills in self-reliance, leadership, and teamwork.