HR & Management

Revolutionising STEM education: Fun is key to success when it comes to inspiring future scientists

7 min read

04 November 2015

While employers are crying out for science recruits, several studies have pointed to the fact that graduates often pursue different careers after study due to a lack of desire to work in the field. According to Dan Sullivan, enthusiasm for science can be ingrained at a young age, and his company, Empiribox, aims to rally up some future scientists.

A study, entitled “Who is studying science? The impact of widening participation policies on the social composition of UK undergraduate science programmes,” undermined claims that Britain’s firms are facing a shortage of well-qualified people with science and technology degrees.

However, it was suggested that 20 per cent end up in graduate jobs not related to their degree, while a further 24 per cent find work in sections of the economy not requiring a higher education qualification.

Emma Smith of the University of Birmingham, who compiled the figures, said: “It is astonishing, in the light of claims of science graduate shortages, that so few new graduates go into related employment. We cannot stress too forcibly our concern at the critical shortage of graduates and postgraduates with STEM capabilities.” 

Smith chalked it down to two possibilities. Firstly, because of recent initiatives, there seem to be too many people studying science for the labour market to cope with, or perhaps graduates are no longer of sufficient quality.

But it is more likely because they are dropping out having learned that they do not enjoy their subject areas.

It is perhaps to address the latter factor, and inspire a passion for science from an early age, that former secondary school science teacher Dan Sullivan set up Empiribox. The company has a unique hands-on approach to primary school teaching and goes out of its way to devise lesson plans that are fun for children. This, according to Sullivan, is the key to success.

“Science teaching at primary school needs to be consistently exciting and interactive,” he said. “But that can only happen if teachers feel confident in their knowledge of the science that underpins each lesson and can make learning fun and relevant for pupils.”

He explained that currently over 95 per cent of class teachers in KS1 and KS2 have no science qualifications and so are uncomfortable with teaching a difficult subject where they feel a lack of confidence. Primary schools also often want to concentrate on teaching instead of spending time on planning and sourcing equipment.

As such, Empiribox comprises of specific, topic-based sets of training for physics, chemistry and biology that not only covers the new National Primary Curriculum, but significantly enriches it. It also includes equipment, alongside lesson plans. 

Sullivan – whose ambition is to inspire children to continue science learning into secondary schools and beyond – maintained that the unique concept would revolutionise the teaching and learning of science in primary schools. 

“It’s a platform for the delivery of affordable and practical science lessons every week of the year over a four year rolling cycle for KS2 pupils in years three to six,” he explained. “That way enthusiasm for science is generated and sustained in children from an early age.”

Read on to find out more about Empiribox’s funding endeavour.

The end game is achieving a much larger pipeline of pupils actually “liking” science and wanting to pursue it as a career. He is of the belief that engaging primary school children as early as possible is a crucial first step towards creating first-rate scientists of the future, who will help the UK maintain a technological advantage in an increasingly competitive global market.

“Improved awareness, knowledge and teaching of science at primary level significantly enhances transition skills; so that’s the starting point,” he said.

The secret formula is regular “wow factor” practical science lessons that children can try for themselves in small groups.

Being first to market in this sector, Empiribox aims to become the dominant market leader of primary school science support and equipment in the UK. According to Sullivan, “Making the progression from a purely chalk and talk approach to science, or none at all, to conducting regular and varied practical science experiments throughout KS2, requires equipping primary school teachers with complete sets of science equipment and teaching materials. It also demands ongoing teacher mentoring and training to make sure they gain and maintain the necessary confidence and skills to engage and inspire young minds.

“Empiribox can cost-effectively fulfil all of these requirements for thousands of UK primary schools, ensuring pupils move on to secondary school with a solid skills-set and grounding in practical science and other core STEM subjects, while also improving literacy. The system encourages children to ask and test scientific questions and develop ‘Investigative skills’; it stimulates their enthusiasm for science as well as enhancing their understanding of the scientific process, particularly the limitations of experimental design.

“Add to that the removal of stress, time and anxiety for teachers and schools around planning the annual science curriculum, and there’s every chance it will boost the school’s results in the core science skills they need.

“Not only do the children themselves deserve a proper science education, but the economy is dependent on significantly increasing the number of STEM graduates each year, and many studies considering this problem recognise this can best be achieved by enthusing and enthralling children at an early age.”

Following the success of its initial launch, Empiribox launched its second equity crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube to raise funds to continue expansion.

With its recurring revenue model, the company is forecasting a doubling of the current £500,000 total sales turnover, achieved since sales commenced 18 months ago. Demand has accelerated significantly in recent months, with 75 per cent of the total value of annual subscriptions achieved so far taking place since April 2015.