Scotland faces the “terrifying” prospect of falling behind the rest of the world in the advancement of science and technology, an expert has warned.

Dr Simon Gage, director of education charity Edinburgh Science, said current investment in school Stem was “not nearly enough”.

The comments came during an evidence session held by the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, which is looking at the quality of Stem education.

One aspect of the committee’s work is to assess whether the Scottish Government’s current Stem strategy is delivering results.

Dr Gage: “The thing you come back to is some degree of terror because, whilst we have a headstart in terms of the great history of science and technology in Scotland, the rest of the world is overtaking us.


Internet crashing is main barrier to school Stem lessons

“We have got to get on with this and we have got to succeed in this. We really do need an education system that produces the best out of everybody because if not we are going to be left in the lay-by.

“I have been to schools in countries that are well-funded and I have seen amazing labs. I have been to schools in China where the labs are better than anything I have ever been through, whether it is IT or chemistry or biology. The wealth of these nations is pinned squarely on becoming capable as technological entrepreneurs.”


Mr Gage said the Scottish Government’s Stem strategy was welcome, but warned there were still some “pretty black and white” issues to address, such as a significant number of teachers who needed help in delivering Stem education.

The government has spent £2 million on Stem bursaries to fill teaching vacancies, £1.6m over four years to train teachers in numeracy and mathematics and £500,000 over two years on a training programme for pupils.

Asked whether current support for the Stem strategy was sufficient, Dr Gage replied: “I can’t see how it can be anywhere near enough.

“People need help. Some sort of professional development in the way they bring science and technology alive.


Not enough 'bodies on the ground' to deliver school Stem education

“They need the resources, they need the technicians. I just don’t see how you do that in a convincing way at a national level without spending tens of millions of pounds, rather than a small number.”

“I have watched this discussion for 30 years and, while the Stem strategy is extremely welcome, it feels like a re-run.

“If we really want to make a difference we have to take this much more seriously and put much more resource into it.”

Earlier, Kathryn Thomas, a primary science development officer with Highland Council, said she believed teachers were at “capacity level” and therefore struggled to deliver Stem education.

She said: “They are keen to engage with Stem, but have other priorities in their school settings.

“Stem is thought to be important, but not as important as other subjects. Literacy and numeracy and health and wellbeing is what they are being held accountable for by their headteachers.

“At primary school level, teachers report back they would like to take part in sessions, but excessive workloads and a lack of energy are reported.”


Expert 'fails' Scottish Government report on future of science teaching

Ms Thomas said when teachers participated in Stem training activities with children, they saw the difference it could make in terms of engagement and positive attitudes.

But she also said the situation was made much more difficult in the Highlands because of the remote geographical location of some schools.