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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Many pupils have 'little intention' of pursuing science or technology career, survey finds

But science push in government schools could pique interest

Abdullah Ali Ameri, 14, programs a robot at the Higher Colleges of Technology Men's College in Abu Dhabi designed to encourage more youngsters into a career in the sciences. Silvia Razgova / The National
Abdullah Ali Ameri, 14, programs a robot at the Higher Colleges of Technology Men's College in Abu Dhabi designed to encourage more youngsters into a career in the sciences. Silvia Razgova / The National

Teachers must deal with a fear factor that is blocking high school pupils from considering careers in science and technology, educators and academics say.

Shibani Nagda, a science teacher in Al Ain, said many of her pupils were intimidated by science subjects.

“One way to decrease this is perhaps to introduce the sciences from an earlier age and put a greater effort on emphasising the importance of the sciences and technology,” Ms Nagda said.

Other hurdles to producing a new generation of scientists, in line with Abu Dhabi’s plans for economic diversification, are pupils’ perceptions of career rewards and a lack of teacher encouragement for those who are not regarded as the smartest in the class.

“It seems that students are put off by the fact that the reward for careers in the physical sciences and technology are not necessarily enough for the amount of work and effort that goes into it,” Ms Nagda said.

“There is also a stigma attached to studying the sciences. Although there is some level of encouragement for more students to pursue such subjects, there is an inherent discouragement for students who are not identified by teachers as the ‘smartest’ to develop their interest.”

Sarah Fay, a science teacher who works with an elite group of public school pupils chosen to be part of an advanced science programme, said given the right exposure children could learn to love science.

“The students that I work with, they want to be the scientists, they want to be the engineers,” Ms Fay said.

“They don’t just want to join the police or the army, they have big ambitions.

It’s not easy for a child to know what they want to do in the future, so it’s up to educators and leaders to guide them and let them explore.”

The teachers spoke after about 2,000 pupils throughout Abu Dhabi completed the Relevance of Science Education (Rose) survey, the results of which are being analysed by the Abu Dhabi Education Council and researchers from Yunnan University in China.

The Abu Dhabi Rose survey shows that many students in Abu Dhabi perceive science as a subject that is hard to learn and feel that it is hard to pursue it as a career,” said Peng Nai of Yunnun University, co-author of the research paper.

“More importantly, it is not only the capability to learn science, but possibly also their concerns about how they could progress in a science career.”

In many other countries that took part in the Rose survey, there was a clear gender divide between boys and girls, but in Abu Dhabi “gender registered no influence in students’ motivation to learn science”.

Dr Zeenath Khan, assistant professor of engineering and information sciences at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, said that while this was promising, there are still too few girls pursuing science in higher education or as ­career.

“It’s the environment that is really not conducive to girls even thinking about stem as an opportunity for them in the future,” Dr Khan said.

“It has to be a community effort – it has to be school, it has to be family.

“They have to talk about these careers not as something that is exclusive, or something for a certain group of people, but something that is for everybody if they want to pursue it.”