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What Is Stem Education and Why Is It Important?

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What Is Stem Education and Why Is It Important?

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STEM education teaches children more than just science and mathematics concepts. It also puts importance on equipping future generations to be successful in their careers.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, employment in STEM occupations grew much faster than employment in non-STEM occupations over the last decade (24.4% vs. 4.0%, respectively).

Learn more about Stem Education and why it is important, as discussed by experts.

Dr. Sandra Loughlin
Head of the Learning Practice, 
EPAM Systems

Every day, new ideas are being generated and shared rapidly around the world, driving an influx of solutions to challenging problems. The global pandemic has only accelerated this pace, as experts rush to develop vaccines and treatments, understand the effects of COVID-19 on the human body, predict and track the spread of the disease and quickly find ways to produce and supply the world with therapeutics.

But, in order to drive innovation and develop critical breakthroughs like these in the future, students must be proficient in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—also known as STEM—and be able to apply what they know to solve real-world problems.

Since the Space and Arms Races of last century, the US has held an enviable position as a leader in the development of breakthroughs, particularly in tech fields. However, there are signs that may soon change.

For several decades, the US has lagged behind their peers on key international tests—particularly in math and science—like PISA, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which is administered to 15-year-olds around the world every three years.

In 2018, the most recent version of PISA, 79 countries participated with the United States ranking #37 in math and #18 in science compared to Canada’s #12 and #8 positions, respectively. And, their standing hasn’t changed much since PISA was first administered in 2000.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) cited this troubling statistic as the rationale for putting an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—envisioning STEM-focused curricula that integrates knowledge from the STEM fields to drive innovation and encourage more people to enter STEM careers.

There have been important changes since STEM-education was introduced. STEM-related initiatives have been credited with increased awareness of STEM-fields, more U.S. students applying to STEM programs in college, and an increase in the proportion of women in STEM careers.

The emphasis on STEM education is more than just additional teaching time in the target areas, but a specific and deliberate focus on the integration and application of content to authentic, real-world challenges.

This integrated, applied approach prepares students better for the workforce, which often requires cross-disciplinary thinking and development.

A new movement that is starting to gain traction is incorporating arts-based components—which advocates term STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics)—with the rationale being that solutions don’t just need to be technically sound but elegant, usable and attractive to adopt.

Therefore, truly authentic work requires understanding and empathizing with decision-makers, customers, and users, and will be more successful if solution makers can speak and write convincingly about their idea.

Opponents of STEAM argue that adding additional fields dilutes the focus and draws already scarce resources away from the main purpose.

As a consultant in a technology solutions firm, I land somewhere in the middle of the STEM vs STEAM debate. My company specializes in integrated consulting that combines core technology with design, innovation and business. And, we know that truly effective and innovative solutions do begin and end with empathy, require user-experience design, and have a better chance of success if the creators can communicate effectively—often in business terms—with decision-makers and end-users.

That said, the best solutions are developed by cross-functional teams of individuals with expertise in different areas—one person can’t be an expert in everything. What is essential, however, is that each team member has a basic understanding of all areas of the solution and respects the critical contribution each area brings.

STE(a)M education is important. It helps develop knowledge in essential and fast-growing fields, encourages girls to enter traditionally male-dominated careers, and teaches students how to tackle challenging problems and work together to find innovative solutions.

It is through initiatives like STEM-education that the U.S. will be prepared, once again, to help lead the charge in developing critical breakthroughs and generating novel solutions to society’s greatest challenges.

The original article can be found here.