The case for fostering school-industry collaboration

A recent report points to the future labour market as being characterised by a quantitative and qualitative mismatch of skills. This means that there will be fewer workers than jobs in the future. And the skills of the workers will not match the required skills for these jobs.

A lack of skilled workers with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) background continues to weigh down future competitiveness and innovation capacity of Europe. This happens at a time when the continent is facing record youth unemployment rates. STEM has therefore become a key priority in western governments’ policy agenda.

The problem can be traced back to the fact that the lack of interest towards science starts at a very young age. European schools pupils currently do not place a high value on science and technology or see them as important for their career. That’s according to according to key findings of an international study, called the ROSE project. Meanwhile, the number of science enrolments and graduates has been slowing down over the last decade, declining from 24.3% in 2002 to 22.6% in 2011, according to Eurostat.

Targeting younger generations

To remedy this situation, some advocate the benefits of partnerships between industry and schools on increasing the attractiveness of STEM education. This is one of the issues covered by research conducted by inGenious, the European Coordinating Body in STEM Education, which has been developed by the European network of ministries of education, Schoolnet, and the forum of senior industry representatives, the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT).

The research findings are due to be presented at a conference entitled ‘Towards 2020: Priorities for STEM education and careers in Europe,’ taking place on 18 November 2013, in Brussels.

This research analyses national needs in terms of school-industry collaboration in STEM education of 15 countries across Europe. The focus on school is due to the discovery that it is key to address the European STEM issue at an earlier stage than previously though necessary.

Indeed, industry presence has previously been well established and codified in Vocational Education and Training (VET) and higher education programmes. However, the situation in primary and secondary schools is much more fragmented and not so homogeneous

Attitudes are changing, though. Collaboration activities between schools and industries are no longer a taboo. Countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have, for example, established a national platform and have dedicated organisations whose purpose is to foster links between education and industry. In additrion, in France, large corporations together with the French Ministry of Research have created the C. Genial Foundation, back in 2006, to promote science, engineering and technology among high school students.

Exposing pupils to both STEM subjects and their real-world applications, in collaboration with the private sector, is now recognised as being able to help stimulate young people’s interest in STEM education. This provides them with a real life context to enrich teaching and learning, and better equip them for their future careers.

Challenges ahead

Before reaching the next stage of development of school-industry collaborations, it will be necessary to tackle common obstacles, which range from technical to contents and pedagogical related issues.

Technical barriers, for example, include issues such as data protection and privacy, branding and marketing, safety in case of activities in external premises, legal consents and establish the level of resources required.

These concerns could easily become a barrier to teachers under exam pressure and to business executives.

Concrete results

In the field, forms of collaboration can vary from industry visits to role models and counselling, fairs and competitions. An example is the new multimedia teaching module on STEM careers including the video Ignite Your Future, developed to inspire young pupils.

Preliminary research results have contributed to the recently published Europe-level catalogue of teaching resources and policy measures on STEM education partnerships. It contains lessons learnt from emerging pioneering collaborating practices across the continent.

In addition, the first version of the guidelines, called the inGenious Code on school-industry collaboration, has been published. It includes best practices, case studies and templates, collected by workshops participants and leading organisations worldwide.

For now, the consultation on school-industry partnerships in STEM education remains open. Experts and practitioners are invited to provide their input and share their experiences to enrich this publicly available tool.

Ultimately, the objective is to formulate recommendations to remove barriers and get collaboration activities to fruition to as much as young European as possible.

Michela Saputi

Outreach coordinator at European Schoolnet and coordinator inGenious

Featured image credit: inGenious

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