Science more highly valued by UK public due to COVID-19, but barriers to STEM education threaten future scientific development
BRACKNELL, UK / ACCESSWIRE / October 6, 2020 / Science and scientists have gained a renewed level of significance in the minds of the UK public due to COVID-19, according to new research released today from 3M, the science-based technology company.
In its 2020 State of Science Index (SOSI), conducted before and during the height of the pandemic, scepticism of science has declined amongst Britons for the first time in three years from 40 per cent pre-pandemic to 29 per cent today – representing one of the biggest declines of all countries surveyed in this annual global study.
As a result of COVID-19, three out of four (77 per cent) are now more likely to believe that science plays a critical role in solving public health crises and 92 per cent believe people’s actions should follow scientific advice to contain the virus.
This compares with just one in four (28 per cent) believing in, rather than being sceptical of, science information that comes from politicians, compared to 86 per cent who believe those working in scientific disciplines.
The findings also show that people in the UK are three times more likely to believe science information coming from regular news outlets (62 per cent) than from social media (18 per cent). This compares globally to 67 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively.
Pre-pandemic, just 15 per cent of Britons would stand up for science when debating its merits. However, since the advent of COVID-19, half (50 per cent) of the population would now be more likely to advocate for science, with three-quarters (75 per cent) now being more likely to feel that science needs more funding.
Britons are united in their view in believing that science will make lives better; four in five (82 per cent) believe that there are negative consequences to society if people don’t value science. Of those who agree, the consequence of most concern is risk surrounding health issues, followed by environmental impact.
But education obstacles threaten future advancements
The pandemic has also pulled into focus the importance of STEM education. Due to the pandemic, three quarters of UK respondents (75 per cent) are now more likely to agree that the world needs more people pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) related careers to benefit society’s future, with 73 per cent more likely to believe that a strong STEM education for students is crucial.
Yet, against this positive shift in perception of science and its value in society today, the survey reveals that significant barriers to STEM education still remain, despite substantial public and private sector investment in the area for more than a decade.
Fifteen per cent of respondents said they were discouraged from pursuing science in school and, worryingly, it’s an issue which appears to be getting worse over time. More Gen Z and Millennials cited this than Gen X and Baby Boomers (23 per cent vs. 11 per cent).
Among those who were discouraged, being told they weren’t ‘smart enough’ was the most common reason cited (41 per cent), followed by gender, race and ethnicity inequalities (31 per cent) and lack of access to science classes (27 per cent).
Opportunities in STEM also remain an issue for disadvantaged communities. Pre-pandemic, parents of low-and mid-income families were considerably less likely to say their kids participated in STEM activities than their counterparts in high-income families (55 per cent low and mid-income vs. 70 per cent high-income).
Also pre-pandemic, over a quarter of respondents (26 per cent) cited lack of diversity among the top challenges facing STEM careers.
Said Dr Jayshree Seth, 3M Corporate Scientist and Global Chief Science Advocate: “COVID-19 has put science on the world stage, demonstrating to all its value and importance at both a societal and individual level. Despite extensive UK public and private sector investment in STEM education to secure the next generation of scientists, barriers still exist and, in fact, seem to be getting worse. This is a worrying obstacle to future advancements in science and technology and we must all work together to overcome this if we are to solve the big challenges, like the one facing us now, and find sustainable solutions.”
Since the Coronavirus emerged, 3M has awarded grants totalling $5 million to support research programmes with a focus on treatments and vaccine development for COVID-19 at leading educational establishments around the world. One of the grant awardees, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, has received €420,000 to investigate micro blood clot formation within the lung and the ability of a repurposed drug to slow or stop the virus from causing severe damage leading to sepsis/septic shock.
During the pandemic 3M launched ‘Science at Home’, a free STEM teaching portal for six to 12 year olds, to help parents with home schooling during lockdown. This programme of 3M scientists conducting experiments in their own homes proved so popular that it has been extended to help teachers and students now they are back in the classroom.
In the UK, the company has also partnered with the British Science Association to run a ‘Smashing Stereotypes’ campaign to inspire and encourage more people from under-represented groups to learn about science and how science-related careers can help them make the world a better place to live.
“Our survey this year has taken the pandemic pulse of the nation and really brought home that science is having its moment. 3M is committed to a science-based, collaborative approach to solving shared global challenges and improving lives,” adds Dr Seth.
3M’s State of Science Index presents two waves of original, independent and nationally representative (based on census demographics) research in 2020, both conducted by an independent global research firm through a combination of online and offline interviews.
Pre-Pandemic Wave: The 2020 Pre-Pandemic Survey was conducted in 14 countries among 1,000 general population adults (18+) in each of the following countries: Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, UK and the US. At the 95% confidence level, the margin of error is +/- 0.83 percentage points at the global, 14-country level and +/- 3.1 percentage points for each individual country.
Pandemic Pulse Wave: The 2020 Pandemic Pulse was conducted among 1,000 general population adults (18+) in 11 of the 14 countries from the 2020 Pre-Pandemic Survey. Countries excluded from this pulse include India, Mexico, and South Africa. At the 95% confidence level, the margin of error is +/- 0.94 points at the 11-country level and +/- 3.1 percentage points for each individual country.
2020 Pre-Pandemic survey results were fielded in August – October 2019, and 2020 Pandemic Pulse results were fielded in July – August 2020.
Previous surveys were fielded between July – September 2017 and 2018. Further information and 2020 survey results are available at www.3M.com/scienceindex.
At 3M, we apply science in collaborative ways to improve lives daily. With $32 billion in sales, our 96,000 employees connect with customers all around the world.
The UK is home to one of the largest 3M subsidiaries outside the USA, employing 2,250 people across 16 locations, including six manufacturing sites.
Products manufactured in the UK include coated abrasives, personal safety equipment, adhesive tapes and industrial microbiology products.
Learn more about 3M’s creative solutions to the world’s problems at 3M.co.uk or follow @3MUK on Twitter.
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