Efforts to Increase Students’ Interest in Pursuing Mathematics, Science and Technology Studies and Careers: National Measures taken by 16 of European Schoolnet’s Member Countries

A report by Caroline Kearney, commissioned by European Schoolnet (EUN)

The report offers a comparative analysis of 16 European Schoolnet (EUN) member countries (Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Turkey, Spain, Norway, France, Portugal, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Israel, Sweden, Ireland and the Slovak Republic), based on voluntary questionnaire responses regarding measures to increase students’ interest in pursuing MST (mathematics, science and technology) studies and careers. Key priorities identified include improving curriculum and teaching; enhancing the professional profile of teachers; ensuring transitions from secondary to tertiary level; promoting partnerships between schools, universities and industry; and increasing female participation in MST studies and careers. The main strategies reported on are as follows. Within each key area, specific country examples are outlined, some of which are mentioned below:

  • Guiding students towards MST careers, through the engagement of industry (workplace visits, classroom visits) and, for example, Sweden’s online careers guidance platform. Such initiatives are aimed at the transition from school to working life, giving school students a clearer picture of what as MST career might be like.
  • Increasing the participation of women in MST studies and careers, such as the Dutch role model approach (matching female MST teachers to female students to inspire them to take up MST careers). Another Dutch initiative is a testimony-based website where mathematics teachers describe their personal career paths.
  • Almost 75% of all country respondents have a national strategy and/or dedicated local and national centres for the promotion of MST: these include campaigns to improve perceptions of MST on a societal level, competitions and themed ‘weeks’, fostering lifelong learning, encouraging public-private partnerships and links between Government, industry and education. Early results from the Norwegian Centre for Science Education’s research project Vilje-con-valg suggest that 20% of all students enrolling in tertiary MST education in 2008 reported Science Centres to be an important motivating factor, above school career guidance and media campaigns.
  • Curricular reform and promotion of inquiry-based learning was reported in most countries e.g. France’s La main à la pâte initiative, based on an inquiry-based approach that encourages students to develop hypotheses and experiments to raise interest and motivation. Such a ‘hands-on’ focus emphasizes the investigation of real-life applications of MST and incorporates teacher training and evaluation.
  • Strengthening teacher training and professional development in MST, via e-learning and/or in-service primary science teaching programmes.
  • Use of ICT in MST teaching: half of countries reported guidelines for the specific use of ICT in curricular MST teaching. Some of the value-adding benefits of ICT are listed.

In conclusion, the results suggest that increasing student participation in MST remains a current concern for many countries, and many are following similar strategies. The development of public-private links, improved teaching and raising the profile of MST among students and the general public are emphasized, especially when approached in a holistic approach comprising life-long learning and local as well as national strategies. Covering only 16 countries, the scope of the report is recognized as limited and the initiatives reported have not on the whole been evaluated; such evaluations would be of much use, as would reports from other countries.
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