Give tomorrow’s problem solvers a push

Our young people are well placed to one day develop solutions to the most pressing problems. Belgium is among the world’s best in cutting-edge technologies. It is essential to get more young people interested in STEM training.

The economy will be transformed in the next decade by unprecedented technological advances, driven by breakthroughs in the chip sector combined with domains such as artificial intelligence, robotics, nano-, bio- and quantum technologies. Belgium is a leader in the development of deep-tech companies, but the lack of qualified staff threatens our growth potential. The tens of billions of billions that Europe is releasing with the Chips Act to strengthen the local technology sector and research centers underline the importance of getting more people interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). It requires a diversified strategy.

Belgium is a leader in the development of deep-tech companies, but the lack of qualified staff threatens our growth potential.

A first point of attention is to attract more women to STEM domains. Women are just as good problem solvers as men, but they are still underrepresented in the engineering and technical professions. The growth opportunities are particularly significant in the ICT sector: Unesco figures for 2018 show that Belgium had the lowest number of female ICT graduates of all the countries surveyed. No fewer than 94.4 percent of the graduates were men.

Role models and key figures from the immediate environment can be an important catalyst for overcoming false assumptions and stereotypes about STEM. School initiatives are particularly well-suited for this. Generations can inspire each other in a playful way. Certainly projects based on a real social need can more often convince girls to take on a role in them than purely technical challenges.

The essence

  • The authors
  • Ilse Ooghe is CEO of RVO-Society and Luc Van den hove is CEO of imec.
  • The case
  • Belgium is a leader in deep technology and is among the world’s best academics in nano- and biotechnology, energy research and pharmaceutical sciences. So our young people are well equipped to soon help develop solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
  • The proposal
  • We need more young people to be interested in STEM education. It requires a diversified strategy.

Another priority is to tackle digital illiteracy. The digimeter shows that the digital divide is widening, especially among young people. Despite the accelerated digitization of our society since the corona pandemic and the popularity of TikTok and Instagram, a quarter of young people do not understand basic concepts like cookies or the cloud. Only 57 percent of 16-24 year olds know what artificial intelligence means. Every sixth young person avoids digital applications that he or she is unfamiliar with.

In addition to the lack of knowledge and skills, part of the population simply has insufficient access to computers. Also, they risk being inadequately prepared for the technological disruption they will experience over the course of their lives and careers.


To maximize a whole generation of digital and scientific reading skills, every child must learn to think computationally. Already in kindergarten, the basic steps of logical reasoning can be learned to solve complex problems with digital tools in a playful way. Even with very young children, we can lay the groundwork for learning to think abstractly, critically and in a problem-solving way, making connections and working together.

How can we excite young people in the coming years to important domains such as computer science, chip technology or synthetic biology? The answer to that question is twofold: by focusing on the societal applications and by presenting real problems at their level without oversimplifying them.

Our young people do not lack passion and intellect, but many are insufficiently aware of the possible uses of their science, engineering, or math classes.

Our young people do not lack passion and intellect, but many are not sufficiently aware of the possible uses of their science, technology or mathematics lessons and the influence they can exert through companies and knowledge centers.

Drop boxes

Even before many students discover the social relevance of STEM, they have often already dropped several courses. In addition, it is very difficult to get in again later. As a result, it will become increasingly difficult to meet the growing demand for technicians.

Translating a real issue into a version that young people can handle is quite a challenge. Still, it is the only way to create correct expectations that can influence a study choice.

As the school year draws to a close, crucial questions raise the question of an entire generation of academic progress. Schools, parents, businesses and research institutions should not miss this opportunity to better inform young people about the growing need for STEM profiles. Above all, we need to give them a taste of the unique influence they can exert as an engineer, scientist or technician.

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