It was a pleasure to speak in the Westminster Hall Debate on Science and Discovery Centres' support for education in science and careers in STEM subjects, where I raised the importance of these centres in supporting learning for young people throughout the UK.
I am really proud that in Wrexham we have our own Science and Discovery Centre, Xplore! (formerly Techniquest), and I was honoured to visit last year for their reopening. As I mention in the speech, I was inspired by the exhibits and facilities at Xplore! and having visited I think it is safe to say the value of the centre as a place of learning cannot be overestimated.
As we build back better from the pandemic, I want to champion the excellent opportunities in STEM and healthcare sectors here in Wrexham, so I was grateful to be able to contribute to this debate and support this significant network of learning facilities.
You can read my full speech here:
May I first thank my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) for securing this debate, which gives us a brilliant opportunity to champion the impact of science centres in our constituencies?
In Wrexham, we have a brilliant science discovery centre called Xplore! It was formerly called Techniquest and I took my child there many times when he was growing up. In September last year I was honoured to be invited to the Xplore! rebrand event at its new location in Wrexham town centre, and to see at first hand its brilliant facilities and demonstrations. I saw children and adults wide-eyed, laughing, playing and learning—indeed, I was one of them. The most accurate analogy I can think of is being let loose in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Xplore! has myriad interactive installations akin to Wonka’s chocolate factory—for inquisitive minds but without the calorie count.
I am proud that Wrexham has one of the 29 golden-ticket interactive science and discovery centres in the UK. Particularly for Wrexham, it is critical that these centres survive and thrive post covid. Science centres such as Xplore! are essential not only in promoting and inspiring the next generation into STEM careers, but in aiding the teching up of our older generation. It was only a few weeks ago that I stood in the main Chamber and asked the Prime Minister whether he agreed with me that Wrexham is an excellent hub to lead the charge for the STEM revolution. There are very few positives to have come out of covid, but the production and roll-out of the UK vaccine is one of them—a Union vaccine, created in England, trialled in Northern Ireland, bottled here in Wales and distributed in Scotland and across the rest of the Union—which means that this is a unique moment in time to promote and invest in opportunities and jobs in STEM sectors.
I would like the young people of Wrexham to learn and remember that Wockhardt in my constituency has bottled the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. I want them to be inspired by that. We have numerous pharmaceutical companies here on the Wrexham industrial estate. We have a major hospital, the Maelor, for those who seek a career in healthcare, and brilliant higher education facilities at Wrexham Glyndŵr University and Coleg Cambria, which are able, keen and willing to facilitate STEM education. And we have Xplore! to provide the perfect foundation for the promotion of those careers from an early age.
The science centres are more important now than ever. Not only should we be using them to promote STEM; we should also be using them as a key component for educational recovery post covid. The majority of children have had a limiting year learning at home. Within our collective aim to build back better, there must be an element of recapturing the lost hands-on education. For those children who are tactile learners, home schooling is hugely detrimental and utilising the centres for educational recovery will be vital.
With science and discovery centres having the potential to be such crucial players in the covid recovery education system, their funding model needs to reflect that importance. Over the past year, science centres in Wales have struggled. Xplore! has received minimal covid funding from the Welsh Labour Government. Ordinarily, Xplore! receives funding via the Welsh Government’s school programme in order to offer reduced cost visits and workshops. Thankfully, that funding scheme, which was due to end this month, has been extended until early next year. That is most welcome, but what happens in 2022? The fear is that children will lose out not only in terms of the catch-up agenda but on ongoing interactive learning which in turn promotes the take-up of STEM subjects. There is a domino effect.
We have the opportunity to be forward thinking in our approach to protecting our science and discovery centres. I urge the Welsh Government to contractually embed school visits within the national curriculum for the benefit of future generations of Welsh children.
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