Geoscience knowledge is pivotal for mitigating natural disasters and climate change, is critical to the energy transition, and essential for the supply of natural resources that underpin everyday life. In 2018, the September edition of Geoscientist highlighted a concerning decrease in geoscience student enrolment numbers in the UK. Sadly, five years on, the decline (which is being felt in many developed nations) shows no sign of abating – yet. Several articles in this edition outline the efforts of our community to reverse falling student enrolment numbers and avoid a calamitous skills gap at a time when geoscientists are arguably needed more than ever.
Contributing to the decline is the lack of awareness of geoscience among school students, largely because geoscience takes a backseat to the mainstream STEM subjects in school curricula. Promoting geoscience to students and educators against the backdrop of an education system still coping with the aftereffects of pandemic-related closures is certainly an uphill battle.
The Society, with organisations including the Earth Science Teachers’ Association, University Geoscience UK, and the British Geological Survey, provide teacher training and engaging resources that demonstrate the real-world relevance of geoscience. Efforts are also focused on lobbying government and improving diversity and accessibility in our field. Particularly promising are a new Natural History GCSE that aims to reconnect young people with the natural world, and the imminent launch of a new Geoscience Degree Apprenticeship that will allow students to earn a degree-level qualification through paid on-the-job training, thereby lessening the risk of student debts.
Geoscience, as a hugely multidisciplinary subject, can morph to address prevailing issues. However, effectively conveying how geoscience courses and careers can be moulded to suit different people’s abilities and interests is a difficult hurdle. The current generation of students undeniably have new skills that lend themselves to a career in the geosciences, but showing them the first rung of the ladder is the principle challenge our community faces.
To raise public awareness of geoscience, scientists and organisations are engaging with people in novel and creative ways, for example via geotourism which aims to attract both local and international audiences, and by combining science with the arts. Communication methods are shifting, too. Gone are the days of simple story telling, making scientific discoveries, and ‘selling’ them to the public. Now efforts are focused on co-production, whereby engagement programmes are delivered with communities rather than to them.
While there is still significant work to be done, the endeavours highlighted in this edition are helping to raise awareness of the relevance of and opportunities offered by geoscience, and to engage society with issues relating to the healthy functioning of our planet.
Amy Whitchurch, Executive Editor
Marissa Lo, Assistant Editor