Are parents putting children off STEM subjects?

Posted By : Anna Flockett
Are parents putting children off STEM subjects?

New research has revealed that parents lack confidence in subjects such as Science and Maths, and this is discouraging the younger generation from pursuing those subjects at school and beyond. The study, commissioned by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), found that 43% of parents have heard their children say ‘I’m rubbish at Maths’ and 32% of parents themselves have used similar statements that they acknowledge affect their kids’ confidence in STEM subjects. 

As a consequence, the UK faces the prospect of falling behind in expertise at a global level because of a nationwide shortage of young engineering enthusiasts.

Worryingly, over a quarter (26%) of parents of school age children (5-18) agree that their own lack of confidence in STEM has affected their children’s proficiency in this area. 

For any child who is challenged by their school work, their parents will likely be the first place they turn to for guidance and support. However, parents find Maths (35%) and Science (24%) the most difficult homework subjects to help with (compared with 18% for English/Literacy and 15% for History).

Interestingly, it’s mums who find Maths the most challenging – 42% have trouble helping with Maths homework, compared with 28% of dads.

And to help, parents are increasingly turning to technology to assist with homework – with Google (80.5%) and YouTube (17.1%) the most popular solutions.

What’s more, whilst 70% of parents regularly attempt to help their children with homework, more than a third (38%) admit to feigning confidence so as to appear clever in front of their child.

The study also revealed the 10 of the most common responses from parents when asked to help with their children’s homework:

  1. It was taught differently when I was at school (34%)
  2. Google it! (30%)
  3. I need a calculator (19%)
  4. We didn’t learn that when I was at school (18%)
  5. Physics is hard (15%)
  6. I was never any good at Maths at school (14%)
  7. I was always better at English (14%)
  8. You won’t use long division when you grow up (7%)
  9. You won’t use fractions when you grow up (7%)
  10. Knowing statistics is pointless (6%)

It is well documented that the UK faces a nationwide skills shortage. 203,000 people with engineering skills will be required each year to meet demand through to 2024, but it’s estimated that there will be an annual shortfall of 59,000 engineering and technicians to fill these roles, and from these results it’s clear that more needs to be done to engage, excite and inspire children about the opportunities that studying STEM subjects can bring.

David Lakin, IET Head of Education commented: “Parents need to be mindful of how their own confidence and enthusiasm towards certain subjects can influence and shape their children’s development from an early age. This study suggests that parents are subconsciously dissuading their children through their attitudes towards STEM.  We want to equip them with the knowledge and skills to better support and encourage their children in these areas, regardless of their own level of expertise.

“Exciting young people about STEM and its endless possibilities will set them on an exciting path that could lead to a fulfilling and rewarding career in engineering and technology.”

To assist and guide parents in engaging with their children about STEM subjects, the IET is hosting a ‘Parentorial’ Facebook Live in partnership with influential parenting platform Mumsnet on Friday 8th June. The ‘Parentorial’ will feature a panel discussion on the importance of encouraging and inspiring children to study STEM subjects, and the opportunities that a career in engineering can bring. Panelists will include celebrated television presented Konnie Huq (having studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry herself at A-level).


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