Im­por­tance of STEM in to­day’s world

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - – Ar­ti­cle courtesy of the Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional School of Kingston (AISK); AISK is a Global Cen­ter for Ex­cel­lence in Ed­u­ca­tion. Send feed­back to

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.

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