In writing her foreword to the 2017 STEM Education and Training Strategy my predecessor, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP (then Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, and now Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills) reflected on the focus of the preceding Programme for Government, and the "time of unprecedented global change" that we were facing. In both respects she concluded that it was essential for Scotland to achieve its full potential in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), both to face the challenges and the opportunities that change brings and fulfil the Scottish Government's wider ambitions.
Since 2017 global change has remained a constant, and the importance of STEM skills has been underlined again and again. We are all acutely aware of the specialist skills required to develop vaccines and treatments, and the work that has happened in schools, companies and public services to facilitate remote working and learning. To be an informed and responsible citizens in such times requires at least some comfort with the mathematical principles underpinning case statistics, and the science behind the laws and guidance that have been in place to protect us.
The context within education has not remained static either. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has announced a number of far-reaching reforms to the education system and in particular into the re-structuring of Education Scotland and the SQA, with further detail to be announced over time. This reform program is ongoing and will affect the way we support schools in how they deliver Curriculum for Excellence. It will impact on the context in which STEM skills are delivered in schools, both as part of the Broad General Education and in the Senior Phase, as assessments change to reflect the lessons of the last years and as we respond to the future needs of our young people. More generally, the reform agenda has reminded us that it is essential that our approach to STEM skills stretches from early years, through school and into higher and further education and on to the world of work. Getting any single element right will not of itself be sufficient to fully leverage the potential of our young people, or maximise their opportunities.
STEM skills remain key to our overall ambitions for Scotland and the Scottish economy. The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review led by Professor Mark Logan demonstrated the importance of school Computing Science as the start of a pipeline that leads to a thriving tech sector. Scotland's just transition to a net zero economy will require an ongoing commitment to the skills supporting existing, emerging and future technologies. The National Strategy for Economic Transformation sets the overall economic context for skills development, and it too recognises the importance of core STEM skills, and other skills such as leadership and co-operation, which whilst not specific to STEM can and must be delivered alongside STEM education, for instance through our Young STEM Leader awards programme.
This is also a good juncture in which to look back at what has and has not worked over the course of the Strategy to date, and to account for where things have not gone to plan. Much work continued during the disruption caused by the pandemic, but notable elements were stopped or postponed. Governance arrangements were put into abeyance to reduce the pressure on those participating, and a planned scheme of STEM awards to complement existing programmes were also deferred. We now have the opportunity to reboot those governance arrangements, and to re-commit to areas of work that were, by necessity, put on hold.
It is right that we are taking this opportunity to take stock of the progress we have made, and to focus our attention on the next steps. We need to be honest that in some aspects of achieving greater STEM gender equalities in higher education or in expanding STEM professional learning opportunities for Early Years practitioners for example, we have not made the progress we would have liked. On the other hand we have seen a welcome increase in STEM Apprenticeship Frameworks, the establishment and growth of STEM bursaries and increasing interest and enthusiasm for our STEM professional learning grants programme. These developments are encouraging and demonstrate that in these areas we are on the right track.
Going forward, we will continue to support the successful work we have already begun as well as delivering on new priorities.
Jamie Hepburn MSP
Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training
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