Annex A: What is STEM?
In the STEM Strategy we take a broad view of what STEM is:
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. We include numeracy and digital skills within our definition of STEM. Both of these are vital to enable everyone to participate successfully in society as well as across all jobs, careers and occupations. STEM education and training seeks not only to develop expertise and capability in each individual field but also to develop the ability and skills to work across disciplines through interdisciplinary learning.
STEM education and training helps us acquire the following skills and capabilities:
- Growing our understanding and appreciation of the natural and physical world and the broader universe around us
- Interpreting and analysing data and information
- Research and critical enquiry - to develop and test ideas
- Problem solving and risk assessment
- Experimentation, exploration and discovery of new knowledge, ideas and products
- Collaboration and working across fields and disciplines
- Creativity and innovation - to develop new products and approaches
All of these are increasingly important to success in a changing and technologically-driven world. They are also important for helping us to develop as active citizens, making informed decisions for ourselves and for society.
We recognise, in particular, the importance of creativity and innovation for economic growth and the strong synergies that exist between STEM and creativity.
The separate parts of STEM are:
- Science enables us to develop our interest in, and understanding of, the living, material and physical world and develop the skills of collaboration, research, critical enquiry, experimentation, exploration and discovery.
- Engineering is the method of applying scientific and mathematical knowledge to human activity and Technology is what is produced through the application of scientific knowledge to human activity. Together these cover a wide range of fields including business, computing science, chemicals, food, textiles, craft, design, engineering, graphics and applied technologies including those relating to manufacturing, construction, transport, the built environment, biomedical, microbiological and food technology.
- All of STEM is underpinned by Mathematics, which includes numeracy, and equips us with the skills we need to interpret and analyse information, simplify and solve problems, assess risk and make informed decisions. Mathematics and numeracy develop essential skills and capabilities for life, participation in society and in all jobs, careers and occupations. As well as providing the foundations for STEM, the study and application of mathematics is a vast and critical discipline in itself with far-reaching implications and value.
- Digital skills play a huge and growing role in society and the economy as well as enabling the other STEM disciplines. Like mathematics, digital skills and digital literacy in particular are essential for participation in society and across the labour market. Digital skills embrace a spectrum of skills in the use and creation of digital material, from basic digital literacy, through data handling and quantitative reasoning, problem solving and computational thinking, to the application of more specialist computing science knowledge and skills that are needed in data science, cyber security and coding. Within digital skills, as noted above, computing science is a separate discipline and subject.
However, it is often the interconnections between these separate parts that are important in life and in work.
This broad definition allows for different interpretations of data about STEM in education and training in what is, in practice, a complex set of inter-related disciplines and skills encompassing a very broad field of study. It is often more important to know about the differences that exist within STEM courses (for example, gender imbalances between courses) than it is to know what the total "amount" of STEM is. There are different options for defining STEM, dependent on the aspect under consideration i.e. education, the level of education or training, industry (businesses) or occupation (jobs).
For the purposes of reporting progress with the Strategy we have chosen to define STEM in different, but related, ways across the different sectors. Full details are available in our definitions paper, published separately. This builds on the earlier Evidence Base Report that was published alongside the Strategy. In summary:
- We have matched SQA qualifications and awards to the broad subject areas described above and included those qualifications and awards if at least half of the mandatory content can be related to these curricular areas and are generally organised or delivered in faculties and departments relating to these curricular areas. The teacher definition follows similar criteria.
- For college courses we have used the definition that is in use on the Outcome Agreements for the purposes of KPIs. We have also provided data on a wider range of STEM related college courses including medical and veterinary related areas of study because these have significant STEM content and lead onto STEM related jobs and careers.
- A similar approach has been taken when determining STEM courses at universities, based on the established Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) definitions.
- We have established a defined list of STEM related apprenticeship frameworks (FA, GA and MA) as set out in the definitions paper. These have been chosen because they relate to the subjects listed above and to STEM related jobs and careers.
- There is no one accepted definition of STEM in the labour market in use in Government. The main issue is that there are some labour market sectors that are very clearly STEM based e.g. Engineering and some that are not STEM based but include STEM related occupations in them e.g. an accountant in a business or a clinician working in health and social work. STEM skills are increasingly important across all sectors and roles and it is very hard to rule some sectors in and some out. We have taken an approach based on work by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills that looked in detail at the proportion of people in jobs and business with degree level qualifications. We have widened this out somewhat, drawing on some baseline research conducted in 2017 and published alongside the Strategy. Further details are in our STEM definition paper published alongside the first annual report.