Getting comfortable with science
To ensure the continuity of research, science and related industries, the EU must address its Member States' youth and encourage them to choose science-based career paths. The EU-funded 'Promoting positive images of SET in young people' (Motivation) project is examining how science, engineering and technology (SET) can attract more young people to these job fields. Often, outdated ideas about science and obsolete clichés are discouraging young people from pursuing such careers, even when an initial interest is present. This image can be compounded negatively by peers, teachers and media, an issue that Motivation is investigating. Better exposure, study visits and professional training can raise the appeal for more students, focusing especially on female students who are less likely to pursue science-related careers. The project partners are analysing representation of SET in TV and in schoolbooks. At the same time, they are encouraging debate between teachers, study counsellors and parents on the topic. In more detail, Motivation is probing gender roles and self images for SET job decisions through diverse groups of pupils (e.g. female students, immigrant-background youth and gay youth). It is identifying good practice of measures for changing preconceived ideas of SET and encouraging inclusion initiatives. Many recommendations are emerging from Motivation to achieve a more encouraging SET climate. The project has revealed that more diverse and realistic job images should be integrated in youth media like magazines and soap operas. Editors and producers should look for industry and university support, highlighting a more interesting presentation of SET options as well. Female SET-related role models should also be created to reduce gender stereotypes, while youth media should be aware of media influence on perpetuating stereotypical gender concepts. The project has also found that liking a subject at school does not automatically mean pupils choose it as a major, noting a lack in initiatives to make SET appealing. A more engaging curriculum can contribute to stimulating interest in SET and present it as a viable career path rather than one that is considered 'too difficult'. In parallel, teachers must also combat the gender gap in sciences and act as leading role models in the field. Another consideration is the traditional stereotype that both teachers and families often reinforce in children, e.g. when science tends to be pushed more on boys and away from girls. These and other important recommendations must be taken into account by industry, academic institutions, companies and policymakers if SET is to flourish in Europe, a goal Motivation is working toward.