Do you have any idea how many research vessels my kids can name? I'm willing to bet that it's the same answer for most children. Yep, that's right, none. Not a single one. I couldn't even tell you the name of any without resorting to google. Could you? Unless you already have an interest in the field then how would you know?
If I asked my eldest for the name of a ship, any ship, he'd probably be able to name the Titanic. My youngest, if he were old enough to talk yet, would most likely name the Rainbow from Old Jack's Boat.
For a country that's supposedly determined to increase the uptake of STEM fields, we don't really seem to be going the right way about it. I get that it's supposed to be a mark of respect to name these things after eminent people (Though how well respected a person can feel knowing there will be continuous jokes about their poop deck, I'm not entirely sure.) but all this gravitas only serves to maintain this aura of stuffiness and pomposity that stops STEM subjects from being accessible to the mainstream.
Given that children are natural scientists, constantly observing the world around them, forming theories on how they think it works and testing to see if their theories stand up to scrutiny (don't believe me? Watch a baby tasting orange for the first time, their facial expressions are the body language equivalent of a scientific report!) we are missing a trick by not capitalising on their innate curiosity. Nasa have already realised this, with their live streams and YouTube videos they're bringing the ISS, and their work aboard it, into the public arena and children especially are loving it. What's to stop the NERC from doing the same? NASA even have a range of toys and dress up costumes for kids (and adults, I just happened to notice, honest.)
At a time when funding is being cut for, well, absolutely everything what better way of creating a new stream of revenue than capitalising on pester power? You don't need to work in marketing to know what a powerful force that is. You just need to have witnessed any child old enough to have connected the dots between tinkling music on a summer's day and ice cream. Bath toys, science kits, dress up outfits, there are so many potential merchandise options out there.
We know the value of the early years in child development. This is when they learn the most and when their personalities are formed. Surely that is the perfect time to stimulate their interest in STEM subjects?
So, Jo Johnson, do you know which vehicles most children can name? Thomas the tank engine, Jupiter the fire engine, Lightning McQueen....the list goes on. Do you know what else they'd remember? Boaty McBoatface!