‘Budget cuts to STEM education will have a detrimental effect on our ability to attract young people into the sector and in turn severely hamper the growth of the local knowledge economy’, according to Jim Stewart CBE, Chairman of Sentinus, the leading educational charity which delivers Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) engagement programmes to over 60,000 pupils across Northern Ireland. Speaking at the last ‘Smart Technology’ Celebration Day, a STEM primary school programme which has had to be shelved as a direct result of the budget cuts, Mr Stewart highlighted the short sighted nature of the cuts, coming at a time when there are also government strategies in place to build a knowledge economy and attract additional foreign direct investment with an attractive rate of corporation tax.
“Due to recent cuts in public sector spending, unfortunately this is the last year the ‘Smart Technology’ programme will run and we have also had to consider the future of other valuable Sentinus programmes which now may be lost or greatly reduced in size. These cuts are already affecting our young people and their educational experience in the important STEM subjects. We are convinced that unless they are reconsidered, in the long run they will severely hamper our aspirations to grow a knowledge economy and our ability to service the demands of future inward investment.
“Sentinus is already oversubscribed for its programmes and the cuts will only exacerbate the situation. At a time of increasing demand for STEM skills and qualifications, demand which will be further increased by the benefits of a reduction in corporation tax, we should be continuing to invest in our young people, giving them exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics at an early age to ensure they pursue the subjects at school and carve out careers in the sector. Sentinus programmes are proven to deliver significant return on investment and are a vital part of engaging with the next generation.
“We feel that the Executive has a collective responsibility to do everything in its power to ensure our skills base continues to grow, so that we can meet the demands presented by the current and future knowledge economy.” continued Mr Stewart.
The Sentinus ‘Smart Technology’ programme served a dual purpose. The initiative was aimed at improving the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in primary schools while developing the skills and confidence of trainee teachers through school based experience.
This year, over 100 trainee teachers and 2,500 primary school students participated in the programme, which focused on both the use of sensor technology and how this can be incorporated into children’s story books, and computer programming of microbots which allowed school children an opportunity to explore the world of robotics.