Advice from David Lakin, Head of Education at the Institution of Engineering and Technology
New research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has revealed that parents’ negative perceptions of maths and the sciences are deterring their children from pursuing the subjects for further study.
The research revealed that 70% of parents regularly help their child with homework, yet over half of those parents admit to feigning confidence in the answers they’re helping with. Worryingly, over a quarter of parents agreed that their own lack of confidence in STEM subjects has affected their child’s proficiency in this area.
In light of the UK’s skills shortage – it’s predicted we’ll need 203,000 people with engineering skills through to 2024 – the IET is calling on parents to reconsider the attitudes they have towards the sciences and maths. In doing so, we hope to inspire children to consider the value and opportunities that STEM subjects can offer.
There are some easy things you can do to help your child’s confidence in maths and science, which will really help to encourage your child to consider the subjects differently.
Dedicate time to helping your child with their homework
Interestingly, our research found that parents were most likely to advise their child to ‘Google it’ when faced with a question they couldn’t answer. While search engines can be a great tool to access information, they can be misleading and provide inaccurate information. Instead, we advise sitting with your child and searching for the answer together to ensure they’re going to trusted sources. Engaging with and supporting your child while they complete their homework will help them to concentrate on the task at hand. Whereas leaving your child to work on their own or avoiding answering a question can be quite isolating.
Organise adventures outside of the home
There are so many great days out in the UK for children and these can be great opportunities to get your child thinking about maths and science. From asking your child to think about how rollercoasters are made, to taking them to a science museum, it can really help to bring to life the practical application that maths and science has on the world. If you’re stuck for ideas, the IET will be hosting an annual engineering event – Engineering Open House Day – in partnership with brands and organisations all over the UK on Friday 3rd August. These events give children and their parents access to their favourite brands to learn about the engineering that goes on behind the scenes. You can visit https://www.engineer-a-better-world.org/whats-on/ for a list of available events this year.
Be aware of the language you use when talking about subjects
Our research revealed a direct link between how parents talk about STEM subjects and how children feel about them. 43% of parents have heard their children say ‘I’m rubbish at Maths’ and 32% of those parents themselves have used similar statements that they acknowledge affect their kids’ confidence in STEM subjects. Instead, try to engage positively. When your child is stuck on their homework, use phrases like ‘tricky questions are the most rewarding to solve’ or ‘this is a hard question, but how great will we feel once we solve it’. These statements help to reinforce confidence in your child and encourages them to really give the question a good try.
Encourage your child to be creative
Engineering not only requires good maths and science skills, but also needs creativity. Engineers have created everything around us, from planes to phones, rollercoasters to chocolate bars, the internet and makeup. Even the music your child enjoys has been engineered. Spend time making crafts with your child to nurture their creativity too. There are some great resources on the IET’s website made in partnership with Blue Peter’s Konnie Huq - https://www.engineer-a-better-world.org/
Engage with your school
Lastly, work with your child’s teachers to understand how they’re performing at school. If your child is excelling in maths or science, really nurture that and push them to do more with those subjects. Alternatively, if they’re struggling, talk to them about why they’re having a hard time. Offer extra support and find out if there are any extra curricular activities that the school or local area offers to help children with maths and science. You could even try to do a couple of classes yourself to show your child how engaged you are with the subjects.
For more information on the IET, visit https://faraday-secondary.theiet.org/
 Report for EngineeringUK: Engineering UK 2018 report