Importance of STEM in today’s world
ALBERT EINSTEIN once said, “Education is what is left after what one has forgotten what one has learnt in school.” His words sum up the changing paradigm of education, and one such evolution is STEM.
STEM, the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, is interdisciplinary, collaborative and project-based learning.
STEM programmes differ from traditional education, in that instead of telling children what to think, it makes room and space for them to experience and learn how to think, how to work with others, how to navigate failure, and how to master concepts.
In the traditional education system as we know it, students are given 10 topics to learn in a subject over a period of time, at the end of which they receive a test.
The pass mark for the test is, say 50 per cent. If a student receives 90 per cent, they get an ‘A’, maybe a gold star, and a pat on the back. However, in a lot of the cases, the student still has not mastered the entire course; there is still 10 per cent missing. To move on to a new topic makes the assumption that they will not need the 10 per cent they didn’t master, and they go through their entire school cycle adding to the gaps they haven’t mastered.
The framework of education, as we know it, is not to master concepts but to simply arrive at a pre-established standard of excellence, whereas STEM encourages mastery and is a cornerstone.
However, the model for education focused on concept mastery and growth mindset, or revolving around “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”.
STEM coursework always evolves from a learning objective, e.g., in a traditional classroom a math class with grade 3 students, with a defined objective of teaching area and volume will most likely take the course of a series of formulae to be memorised and reproduced during a test.
In a STEM framework, students may be asked to “design a backpack” with a group of students. They will have to do research on design, functionality, features and market needs, they will then have to assess the area and volume required to carry out the task of creating a fully functional backpack.
Now the student is invested, they are in control of their learning, they can relate to what they’re learning because backpacks are something they use daily. They are solving real-life problems and applying the skills, including the volume formulae that they have learnt immediately.
The students will not achieve a fully functional backpack on the first try, maybe even the fifth try, but the challenge of working through a roadblock provides them with a healthy appreciation of failure and conditions them to consider not just the final result but the entire process and experience.
Now consider the world as we currently live in it. In the next three years self-driving cars would be a reality. Our 10-yearold children may never experience the right of passage of getting their own car, because their grown-up self will have been summoning cars from their smartphones for years. Imagine a world where you will not even have the desire to own a car. Now imagine how you were taught in school, and decide if that same education is in service of the world our children are living in and will live in.
Last week, Apple launched iPhone X. What seems to be a radical change is that there is no button to open the home screen, the phone uses facial recognition. This evolution is a prime example of emerging careers and technologies and why STEM is important to how we shape our children’s education, but the lives they will live when they are ready for the world of work.
It is not business as usual; in fact, business as usual is disruptive, invasive, takes no prisoners, business as usual is mastery of concepts, collaboration and critical thinking.
What did you want to be when you ‘grow up’? Was it an App Developer? A User Experience Manager? How about a Scrum Master? We can safely say neither one, because these careers did not exist 10 years ago, and may not exist 10 years from now, yet these careers are listed as some of the Top 25 paying jobs in America according to Business Insider – June 2017.
In those 25 careers, more than half are STEM jobs. The real problem is our students do not know what STEM jobs are and are unable to relate them to everyday life.
Students, especially girls, are steered away from viable careers because they “involve math”. The narrative that only nerdy girls do math certainly does not help. Does your daughter love cosmetics? Forbes Magazine May 2017 estimates the cosmetics industry to be $445-billion dollar industry, that’s billion with a ‘B’, and hailed it as one of the most prevalent industries for women to start a business. A degree in chemical engineering would provide that launch pad into cosmetics, which is an ever-expanding, ever-evolving and ever-changing industry, and to think it would have started with your daughter watching you put on make-up!
Steering children in the direction of their interest and providing them with tools and the framework to accomplish them is what education is about.
Our reality as parents is that we currently fear that our children would not be in a space which in any traditional sense is the office. The world now sees work as ‘thing’ and not a ‘place’.
We order prescription eyewear online, and thanks to programmes like IBM Watson our children may never see an optometrist.
The model of ‘Get good grades, get into a good college to get a good job, is dead. Today’s model is made for ‘the thinkers’, not just ‘the doers’. This is why we need STEM; this is why we should insist on project-based learning in our schools.
Education is not a trip to a predetermined destination commonly known as a ‘College Degree’. Education is a continuum of integrating disciplines, developing ways of thinking, tools for working, ways of working and skills for living.