• New research commissioned by the British Science Association finds vast majority of children (almost 9 in 10) want to take an active stance in changing the world, but they lose faith in their ability to do so as they get closer to leaving school: 52% of children don’t feel optimistic about their ability to change the world when starting school, compared to nearly 63% of 14 – 18-year-olds.
  • Leading Behavioural Psychologist, Jo Hemmings, says parents and teachers must capitalise on a year of amazing scientific progress and newfound knowledge to help motivate children to change the world.
  • This year’s British Science Week (taking place from 5–14 March) offers support in motivating Generation Science - the next generation of children who will shape solutions to some of society’s most entrenched issues from the climate crisis to pandemics.

New research, conducted with parents of school-age children, reveals that despite 9 in 10 children wanting to take an active stance in changing the world, nearly half of school-aged children do not feel optimistic about their ability to do so. The research, commissioned ahead of British Science Week (5-14 March), found that 52% of parents with young children just starting school reported that their child didn’t feel confident they can make a difference in the world. And the problem only gets worse as children get older – by the age of leaving and making decisions about their futures, this rises to nearly two thirds of teenagers (64%). Exasperating the problem, almost a third (30%) of parents of children aged 14-18 say they don’t feel confident motivating their children to pursue their dreams.

According to the research, which was commissioned by the British Science Association (BSA), children have been spurred on by major world events such as Covid-19 and the climate crisis to make a difference to the world, with 1 in 5 children being interested in careers in tackling climate change, and almost a quarter (23%) wanting to explore careers related to solving medical emergencies and pandemics.

This year’s British Science Week will focus on showing Generation Science that it is possible for them to act on their desire to change the world. With free-to-use activity packs for parents and teachers as well as events from partners such as Universities, museums and even zoos taking place throughout the week, it will show how important, interesting and accessible science is, and how it plays a huge role in everyone’s day-to-day lives.

Jo Hemmings, Behavioural Psychologist, commented on the findings:

“This research shows the impact that becoming a teenager is having on our nation’s children when it comes to their confidence in chasing their dreams. Despite being galvanised by the issues we are tackling as a society, many simply stop feeling able to make a real difference as they get closer to beginning their careers.

“As school closures begin to end and children begin to get a semblance of normality back in their lives, it’s really important we continue to motivate them to pursue their dreams. It’s important that both teachers and parents capitalise on new scientific visibility and in some cases their newfound knowledge, by talking to their children about the many ways in which science affects our day to day lives, making it informative, exciting and fun, so that they stay motivated, and encouraging them to start thinking, even at an early stage, what sort of role they could play in this brave new world as they go through their schooling.

“This year’s British Science Week comes at a crucial moment in the development of the next generation. Keeping dreamers on the path to fulfil their ambitions is vitally important if we’re to meet the challenges our society is facing.”

The research, carried out by OnePoll with 2,000 UK parents of children aged 5–18 between 4th February 2021 – 18th February 2021, also found:

  • Some children have found themselves more optimistic about their abilities as a result of societal issues - 32% of children’s feelings about their ability to change the world have been positively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, 40% feel more positive about their abilities as a result of the climate crisis, and 33% of children have felt galvanised by the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • 41% of 14-18-year-olds career goals have become much less idealistic as they’ve got older.
  • 72% of parents feel that science will be important to their child’s future.
  • Black or Black British Caribbean children feel the most optimistic about their abilities to change the world upon entering school (70%), but this drops to just a quarter feeling very optimistic (25%) as they get older, the largest drop in optimism of all ethnicities.
  • Boys are much more likely to feel optimistic about their abilities to change the world than girls, with 18% feeling very optimistic compared to only 11% of girls.

(Please note that the sample sizes are small for some of the stats listed above, so caution is advised when interpreting the data.)

Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of British Science Association, commented:

“After a year of science making daily headlines and becoming such a prevalent part of everyone’s day to day lives, it’s become even clearer just how important it is to society.

“This research follows our previous Future Forum research which found that 71% of young people are concerned about the effect of climate change on their futures, and 69% are concerned about the impact of future pandemics – this year’s British Science Week will focus on ensuring Generation Science feels confident about its abilities to help to address major, global issues that will shape their futures.

“We know this year has been tough for parents and teachers alike to maintain momentum and motivation with children, and so we’re providing a wealth of free resources, events and opportunities showing how interesting science can be. The last few months have seen some incredible developments for the subject, from the Covid-19 vaccine to the landing of Nasa’s Perseverance Rover on Mars. These achievements remind us just what we’re capable of when we work together to make science a priority.”

Parents, teachers and children can get involved in events taking place throughout the week, including:

  • Joining Maddie Moate and Greg Foot for two British Science Week themed Let’s Go Live shows on their YouTube channel.
  • Downloading at-home and at-school activity packs for early years, primary and secondary school children.
  • Read about stereotype-smashing science heroes on the British Science Week website and sharing their own science stories.
  • Taking part in online events from universities, museums and even zoos available on the Science Live website.
  • Getting involved in the British Science Week poster competition for a chance to win prizes.