By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association


For young people today the world may appear to be transforming at a rapid pacethe future looks vastly different to the world their parents grew up in, and its theirs for the taking. While every generation may feel that they’re living through a time of change, the next generation of young people leaving school really do have unique issues to contend with.

The urgent need to find sustainable solutions to the climate emergency, reckoning with the impact of ubiquitous social media and constant mobile phone use on wellbeing, and now rebuilding the world in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic are all enormous challenges that face the next generation.

In light of this, in 2014, the United Nations christened 15 July as World Youth Skills Day, “to celebrate the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship”. This year’s celebration will honour the resilience and creativity of youth through the pandemic.

At the British Science Association, we have seen the resilience and creativity of youth over the past year first-hand.

British Science Week

British Science Week (BSW), our annual, ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), took place this year from 5-14 March. Despite being under the cloud of the pandemic, with the usual in-person events unable to go ahead as normal, young people (and of course their caregivers and educators!) came out in force to mark the occasion. In schools and homes across the four nations of the UK, young people conducted all kinds of scientific experiments and activities, sometimes using our BSW 2021 activity packs and sometimes using their own imaginations to come up with innovative ways to celebrate STEM.

We are always excited when people contact us on social media, or through any other channel, to share their science adventures with us. Throughout BSW 2021, hundreds of people did just that, giving us an insight into their resilience and creativity.

For example, while learning remotely, design and technology students at Glenalmond College, Scotland, took part in BSW 2021 by making their own rain gauges, which they monitored to collect data on precipitation. Now that’s an inventive way to embrace springtime showers!

The Year 5 class at Cheam Common Junior School, England got hands-on with paper engineering by constructing tables out of newspaper that were strong enough to support their laptops! Engineering is the E in STEM (we’d be lost without it!), so it was fantastic to see young scientists experimenting with classroom materials.

A class at Bryn Awel Primary School, Wales, took on the challenge of Herd Immunity Jenga, one of the activities from our BSW 2021 Primary Activity pack, and found that The more people that were vaccinated the harder the virus found to travel. An important message to communicate to today’s young people about the COVID-19 pandemic and viruses as a whole.  

Up in the north of England, children at Hoylake Holy Trinity School got into the BSW21 spirit by using thermometers to test the melting point of different materials and recording the results. They proved that you can engage with accurate scientific procedure and have fun along the way!

There was also of course the BSW 2021 poster competition, which thousands of young people entered, producing some incredible work on this year’s theme of ‘Innovating for the future’. The winners were announced on 15 June, with the results including creative ideas ranging from a volcano energy extraction system to an injecto-fly for speedy vaccinations!

CREST Awards

While BSW events and activities tend to take place during a certain time of the year, CREST Award projects can be run all year round, and the turbulence of the past academic year hasn’t slowed keen young scientists down.

We recently published an interview with Supratha and Martin, two secondary school students who have worked together on a Gold Award project for which they researched information about COVID-19 and curated a document aimed at medical students. Their curiosity, dedication and understanding of the importance of clear science communication is something we hope they carry with them in their careers.

Younger students have also been consistently working hard to earn their CREST Awards throughout the year, whether from home or the classroom.

The Year 7 STEM club of Alton School collected their Bronze certificates for conducting an investigation into how different shampoos affect hair, while the Year 8 class of Ceder Mount High School debated digital privacy and where our mobile phones are listening to our conversations to achieve CREST Awards. The Year 9 class at Leighton Park School also received their Silver CREST certificates for carrying out investigative projects across a wide range of scientific topics.

These examples are just a drop in the ocean, and it doesn’t stop with secondary students. Children at Nant Y Parc Primary School had fun with Brilliant Bubbles, an activity from the Star CREST Collection, and Year 3 pupils at Christ the King RC Primary School got their hands dirty in the great outdoors with Tree Trouble from the CREST SuperStar collection.

That young people have shown resilience and creativity through the pandemic, with the support of the adults in their lives, is hard to deny. Perhaps the message to take away is that inter-generational co-operation and unity is the key.