Any discussion of science today is incomplete without mentioning STEM, STEM education or STEM jobs. But what is STEM? And why is it so important?
STEM refers to the academic disciplines of science, maths, disciplines of science, maths, engineering, and technology.
So why is STEM important?
The world is changing at a rapid pace, and with this change come many challenges: climate control, poverty reduction, clean water, sustainable energy, food production, finding cures to deadly diseases, and economic growth, to name just a few. STEM fields play an integral part in finding the solution to all these problems.
But there is a problem: the STEM crisis
We are facing a critical shortage in the global STEM workforce. Studies show that the UK’s science and innovation system is hampered by weaknesses in its STEM talent base. As well as low basic skills (numeracy, literacy and ICT) and below-average management skills, the report highlights a problem of insufficient domestic human capital to exploit science and innovation, including deficits of domestic STEM talent. The European Schoolnet predicts that Europe will need1 million additional researchers by 2020, whereas in 2014, sub-Saharan Africa reportedly required 2.5 million new engineers and technicians to address the continent’s most pressing development problems. The US Department of Labor expects 1.2 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018, but predictions suggest that there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them.
So why is there such a discrepancy?
It looks as though we need to prepare more teachers in the STEM fields before tackling this gap between supply and demand. In a recent study by the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which gauges innovation aptitude among young adults, 60% of young adults (aged 16–25) named at least one factor that prevented them from pursuing further education or work in the STEM fields. Of these, 34% said they didn’t know much about the fields, a third said they were too challenging, and 28% said they were not well prepared at school to seek further education in these areas.
We need to act now
Most students lose interest in STEM between middle and high school. Instilling a love for science early on can go a way to prevent this. Young children are naturally curious, and the best way to harness this curiosity in a healthy way is by integrating science into their lives. It isn’t too challenging – in fact, most children already interact with STEM in one way or another in their day-to-day life anyway. In her article on early STEM education, Erin MacPherson states: “Students become engrossed with the sand, some marbles, and rulers, and soon, with the help of a few guiding questions, they are learning principles of physical science.” Boosting a child’s interest in STEM can come from the simplest things, like helping them to explore the world around them and encouraging them to ask the right kind of questions. Innovative learning resources can help us do just that.