More students taking STEM A-Levels, but is that what we really want?

Thousands of students are celebrating their A-Level grades last month and the results look good. There have been massive reforms over the last few years including cutting coursework entirely and having all A-Level exams sat at the end of two years.

The results are in and overall, it’s looking good. There was a worry that pass rates would suffer, when in fact it has only gone from 77% to 76.8%. As we look a little deeper into the results of A-Levels there another trend that is starting to emerge that we may want to keep an eye on:

More people are taking STEM subjects, which is brilliant but far fewer are taking humanities or modern languages. With the ever-increasing digital skills gap, there has been a huge push to get more students taking sciences, tech, engineering, and maths. The number of students who have taken these subjects has gone up along with the number of women sitting the exams (although women are still in the minority). However, results vary massively with students in the North East and West Midlands achieving lower results than the rest of the country.

There is also a worry about ‘employability’ of students with changes to how the students learn and what subjects they take. For example, geography is a great subject for learning analytical, researching and communication skills; is not as popular as it once was. French and German have also seen in the decline in both A-level and GCSEs. More students are now taking international languages such as Russian or Chinese, could this be a response to Brexit as students now feel like they need to look further afield as business ties to the rest of Europe will change?

It’s great that students are clearly thinking about skills that will be in demand in the future such as technology and sciences but we don’t want this to be at the detriment of other thriving industries in the UK. For one, the UK has a very unique position as a tech center but also as a creative hub. With cuts to education, more sixth forms and colleges will have to cut courses that are undersubscribed such as the arts. Creativity and tech very much go hand-in-hand with designers needed to work alongside coders. Back in March, Jonathan Sands, the boss of one of the worlds top agencies, Elmwood Brand Design, pointed out this issue to the Yorkshire Post. Calling the lack of investment in creative subjects an ‘emerging threat’.

It would seem that the main challenge here is general lack of funding for education along with an inability to show students that there are multiple pathways to their career choice. We are obviously biased to wanting to see the tech industry grow, but young people also need to learn how to work in a team, how to express a creative idea, communicate effectively or even how to lead a team. Churning out coders with no other skills leaves the UK in a difficult position in the future.

So if you are student reading this, get out there and learn what you are passionate about. Have fun learning to work with others and pursue a passion that will strengthen a career in tech. At the end of the day, becoming a well-rounded individual is what will get you far in life.

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