Education and skills

Young people should have every opportunity to lead rewarding lives, and this significantly depends on having access to the best possible education. Ensuring that future citizens from all backgrounds experience a good education is the most effective pathway to fulfilling careers, meaningful engagement with society and developing a sense of place and purpose in a rapidly changing world.

How education and skills empower people

The foundations of the scientific knowledge and skills that produce the best scientists are established in schools and colleges and nurtured by committed and talented teachers. Our daily lives are infused with science, mathematics and technology, which underpin almost every aspect of the modern world; from the smartphones that we use to communicate and algorithms that recognise disease at the earliest stage, to energy storage solutions that will contribute to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. 

A broad education including science, mathematics, computing, arts and humanities provides a strong grounding for everyone to live well and contribute their talents to the world. In a rapidly changing world, we need more young people from more diverse backgrounds to have a broad set of knowledge and skills that can lead to STEM careers. A good education also means ensuring that all citizens benefit from the opportunities presented by science, at the same time developing the ability to engage confidently in discussion around how its applications shape society.  

This is why as part of its mission to apply science for the benefit of humanity, the Royal Society acts both to inspire young people through engagement with schools and colleges, and to be a major contributor in helping to shape the educational system and landscape through its research and policy work. 

For the UK to maintain and grow its status as a world-leading scientific nation, it must nurture the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers within an education system redesigned for the future. The Royal Society has long supported reform to reflect the changing nature of research, innovation, the development of essential skills and the connectedness between science and other subject disciplines.

This means transforming young people’s school experience so that they no longer need to make ‘high stakes’ choices about their futures at an early age, and where technical and vocational learning are truly valued alongside academic routes, and both are associated with quality and rigour.

This will require ambitious, long-term reforms across the whole of the education system. Which is why the Royal Society is seeking that all political parties make education a policy priority, including a long-term commitment to reform to the system so all young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need.

Data plays an increasingly important part in our daily lives, whether in research, at work, as consumers or as everyday citizens. Over recent years the Royal Society’s Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education has undertaken a programme to explore how maths education needs to evolve to meet this need. New courses and new ways of approaching how young people learn about maths and data, statistics and numeracy, are anticipated by the ‘Mathematical Futures’ Programme. As a precursor the Society and the British Academy are supporting greater awareness and uptake of core maths courses, designed for post-16 students who may need the subject for further study or training but not as a specialist subject.

Digital technology promises to change how teachers teach and how students learn, while the demand for computational expertise should produce courses that lead to new career pathways and skills. Young people will need to understand how these digital tools work as well as learning how best to employ them, while their teachers will make use of these powerful technologies to inspire and excite. Perhaps the most exciting potential is that emerging technology offers the possibility of a personal learning journeys for every student, helping teacher and student to diagnose misconceptions and guide along a bespoke learning path. The Society is working with its Fellows and leading educationalists to help understand how to make this a reality.

A good education is one that inspires the next generation and is therefore heavily reliant on a strong supply of confident and knowledgeable STEM and other teachers, valued and recognised for their professionalism. The technical and applied challenges presented by AI, data and sustainability in science and education, increase the need for teachers to remain up to date. In addition to the Society’s backing for subject professional learning the Royal Society offers teachers a range of valued initiatives and educational resources to enhance the teaching and learning of science.

These include a series of school experiments presented by Professor Brian Cox, scientifically robust resources on topics such as climate change and biodiversity and activities intended to bring the power of science alive. We also produce resources designed to help teachers demonstrate the wealth of opportunities that are available to students through science.

The Royal Society also runs the Partnership Grants scheme (including the Tomorrow's Climate Scientists extension), which supports schools to engage with STEM professionals from academia or industry to run investigative projects in schools.

Our digital world offers many exciting opportunities but also presents major challenges. Tomorrow’s citizens will need to separate fact from fiction and be confident to choose trusted sources of information over others.

A good science education helps young people to acquire knowledge and skills, but also demonstrates how science is done. Science is based around evidence that can be trusted, tested and reproduced. In an age of misinformation and disinformation, young people need to be confident curators of knowledge and capable users of data. Which is why the Royal Society sees scientific literacy and the establishing of strong quantitative skills as core components of its educational strategy.

Establishing scientific literacy is vital for our democracy since it helps people make informed choices about themselves and their society. It helps to protect against inaccurate or misleading information, while also giving them the skills they need in their careers. It will also be vital in helping people to understand the often, hard choices they will face as the world tries to tackle global challenges.


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