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An assessment of secondary school students’ interest in STEM subjects

Background

The Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) conducted Skills Studies in 2017/2018. Among the main findings, a lack of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills were reported by employers across all the economic sectors of Mauritius. Besides, secondary data sourced from the Mauritius Examination Syndicate (MES) revealed a gradual decline in enrolment in STEM subjects at secondary education level and subsequently at tertiary education level. This state of affairs is leading to a growing mismatch between the skills of job seekers and those set out by employers as a quest of filling of vacancies. It has been found that the mismatch of skills relates mainly to STEM skills that include problem solving skills, higher order thinking skills, innovation and creativity among others. Such skills are mainly developed through STEM subjects taught at school level.

Rationale

Underpinning the above, a strong STEM skills base is vital for the future of the country. To this end, the Ministry of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology has highlighted the primacy of these skills in the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2015 presently being implemented. In consonance with the endeavours of the Ministry to address this pertinent issue, the HRD Council at its meeting held in April 2019 approved to conduct a research to identify the motivations and key challenges for the development of STEM skills at schools. This will be achieved mainly via a survey, initially designed to be conducted face-to-face, now being conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This study is being conducted with the support and collaboration of the Ministry of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology.

Aim and Objectives

The main aim of this research is to understand the problematic of STEM skills mismatch from multiple angles, that is, students, parents (as influencers of career decisions), educators, rectors and other key stakeholders.

The objectives of the study are to:

  • obtain a deep understanding of the issues that are hampering the development to STEM skills among students;
  • identify the reasons behind the lack of interest of students in STEM subjects;
  • gauge the point of view of relevant stakeholders vis-à-vis STEM subjects;
  • come up with input that would help to mount projects with a view to alleviate this issue; and
  • provide pointers to institutions concerned to take necessary measures.

Methodology

Survey instrument

The research involves a main survey via online structured questionnaires. Four sets have been prepared targeting: students of Grade 9 and Grade 11; parents or guardians of those students and teachers of those classes identified among the sample of schools. The findings will be augmented through qualitative and quantitative data.

 

Survey sample

A sample of 52 schools (both state and private) has been targeted for the survey, representing around 30% of the population of schools.

 

Target audience

From schools identified above, the survey targets all Grade 9 and Grade 11 students, their parents and teachers of their classes. They will be surveyed via respective online questionnaires. As students are below 18 years, consent of their parents / guardian are sought prior.

 

Survey administration

All the 4 sets of instruments will be administered online via email or mobile phone. Instruments have been developed using the Survey Monkey software. The Ministry’s support, via the intervention of Zone Directors and respective rectors, is solicited to provide emails or mobile numbers of:

  • Parents of students from schools (of respective grades) sampled;
  • Students possessing a mobile, with consent of parent; and
  • ALL teachers of Grade 9 and Grade 11, irrespective of subject taught.

 

Note: The requested contact information of respondents will be used solely for the purpose of the survey and will be destroyed thereafter.

 

Once above information are obtained, a pilot in at least 2 schools will be carried out to ensure that there is no bug in the questionnaires or in the process. Any shortcoming will be addressed before the main survey is run. A few individual expert interviews are also planned to complement the quantitative findings.

 

Time frame

The main survey is expected to start in October 2021 and be completed by end of November 2021. Hence, a timeline of around one month, assuming no major disruption in the process, is allocated to complete and submit the filled questionnaires. To ensure better coordination, all the instruments will be administered simultaneously. Zone directors and rectors of participating schools are playing a pivotal role in coordinating the process. Once data is collected analysis will ensue. A first draft report is expected by December 2021.

 

Final words

The HRDC wishes to thank all respondents participating in the survey, school staff, rectors and directors of zones of both public and private schools and the Ministry of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology in this national endeavour.

 

The HRDC will share the findings of this survey with respondents and related stakeholders.

 

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