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Top British female engineer hails young as natural engineers to be encouraged

Published 24/07/2016

Professor Dame Ann Dowling has specialised in finding ways to reduce aircraft noise
Professor Dame Ann Dowling has specialised in finding ways to reduce aircraft noise

Young children are natural engineers whose instinctive curiosity and creativity should be encouraged from an early age, according to Britain's most influential female engineer.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling, the Royal Academy of Engineering's first female president, also believes selective schooling is to blame for the lack of women working as professional engineers in the UK.

Interviewed by Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, Dame Ann was asked why she thought women accounted for only 8% of British engineers compared with around 20% in other European countries.

She said: "We're quite atypical in the proportion of women working as professional engineers in this country.

"I think it goes back to our highly selective school education where from 16 to 18 we have youngsters just studying three subjects.

"Girls do very well at GCSE science but a small number, only 20%, continue physics on into the sixth form. And physics and maths are the standard entry to do a degree in engineering.

"I am concerned that young women in particular are giving up physics and probably making these decisions when they're 14 or 15."

Schools could help by encouraging children with a potential future in engineering from "quite a young age", said Dame Ann.

She added: "A ll the evidence is that actually very young children are really natural engineers.

"Engineering is all about curiosity about the world around us, wanting to design things, wanting to be creative. You've only got to see young children at play to know that they're full of that. The cardboard box becomes a castle - that's a very engineering frame of mind."

Among the discs she chose was Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys.

Dame Ann, who has specialised in finding ways to reduce aircraft noise, said: "My own career has been very much around good vibrations. At the heart of what I do is trying to reduce the noise of the world around us."

:: Desert Island Discs is broadcast at 11.15am on Sunday.

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