You are here Articles & Speeches Speeches STEM In Schools 2/3/2015

STEM In Schools 2/3/2015

E-mail Print

I, too, support the motion. Like my colleague, I want to hone in on what I see as a key phrase in the motion:

"STEM as a key driver of the economy".

I want to make two points on that. Our history on STEM, and indeed Northern Ireland's successful high achievers who have come out of what we now call "STEM" — certainly, it was not called "STEM" in their day — is a platform on which we can build to take us forward. In the STEM areas, Northern Ireland has punched well above its weight; much like our sporting achievements over the weekend. It is often said that the only resources that we have in Northern Ireland are our people. STEM gives us an opportunity to embrace all those elements on which to build a strategy for success.

I want to mention, as others have, a few people who have been successful and their backgrounds. Harry Ferguson, who has been mentioned, was a farmer's son from County Down; he started life in a very humble way, working in a bicycle and car repair business. He was fascinated by aviation and inspired by the Wright brothers. Indeed, he wanted to embrace, and he did, his scientific and technical knowledge and convert it into success in running a business. It is difficult to think what the agriculture industry might be like today had it not been for the benefits of his skills and engineering knowledge.

Another was John Stewart Bell. He was born in Belfast in a very humble background; he decided on a career in science when he was 11 years of age. He did not have the opportunity to go to a grammar school, but he finished his education at Belfast technical college. He became a technician at Queen's University and was inspired there. He graduated with two degrees in experimental physics and mathematical physics. This was a man from Belfast who corrected Einstein. Only recently he had a street named after him in Belfast. Unfortunately, he missed out on a Nobel prize only because of his untimely death.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born in Belfast and educated in Lurgan. She failed her 11-plus. She was educated in York and impressed her physics teacher so much that he encouraged her down the line of science. She graduated from Glasgow University with a Bachelor of Science degree. She campaigned to increase the number of females who participate in physics and astronomy. She is house patron of Burnell House at Cambridge House Grammar School in Ballymena.

There are many, many more who could be named. Others in the Chamber mentioned them. Lord Kelvin — or 1st Baron Kelvin, as he was referred to — was mentioned because of the recent Kelvin infrastructure for communications.

Let me just say this in the short time that I have left: the benefits of STEM will be realised fully only when there is an increased understanding between science, technology and mathematics and a full understanding of the potential of those subjects to our community and society. We need pathways for young skilled and knowledgeable people; we need a change of culture to reduce and manage risk aversion; we need a change of culture to build the links between Northern Ireland businesses, universities and publicly funded research projects.

I hope, on the basis of what the First Minister said earlier today, that the silo mentality can be got over and that the Departments can work together to maximise the potential of STEM to our economy.

Site developed by Avec Solutions