What is STEM education?
Disney drew attention to STEM education when they announced that they would be donating $1 million of the proceeds from the movie “Black Panther” to STEM programs. It was a nod to one of the key themes of the movie: how technology can empower young people.
But what is STEM education, exactly?
STEM is an education curriculum that focuses heavily on the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
According to LiveWire, “STEM schools and programs approach these key educational subjects in an integrated way so that elements of each subject are applied to the others. STEM-focused learning programs span from preschool through college master’s degree programs, depending on resources within a given school district or region.”
The STEM Diversity Network notes that by 2018, it’s been predicted that 8.65 million STEM jobs will exist, but that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a shortage of 600,000 potential candidates.
With that said, while there may be a lucrative career waiting for any kids with an interest in STEM, that’s certainly not the only benefit of STEM education.
In the following article, we’ve broken down what we love about STEM and what we believe could be potential downsides.
Benefits of STEM
Let’s face it, when you think of the word “creative,” STEM students don’t come to mind. You think of art students or musicians.
However, early implementation of STEM education for students can encourage students to come up with their own creative solutions to problems. They’re encouraged to think outside the box.
On top of creative problem solving, though, students also learn design principles, skills they will use in STEM fields like engineering.
Prepares Students for the Work Force
We’ve touched on this already, but the STEM education focuses on helping kids develop the critical thinking and innovation skills that are attractive to potential employers. Moreover, students who build a STEM foundation early will likely have endless job opportunities, since those fields are rapidly expanding.
Students also will have the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of careers related to STEM, since many programs bring in professionals to meet with the students and talk about their careers.
Promotes Gender Equality
As you may have noticed if you saw the movie The Black Panther, one of the lead female characters was highly skilled with the advanced technology… as well as being athletic, attractive and engaging.
The point is, she makes STEM look far more appealing to young girls.
Though there is currently a wide gap in the number of girls and women in STEM-related fields (only 24% of STEM employees are female), STEM education is trying to bridge the gap and encourage young girls to give STEM a try.
Of course, they would have to express an interest in STEM at a young age. But perhaps Disney’s million dollar contribution will help further bridge that gap.
Downsides of STEM
No Clear Standards
One of the biggest issues with STEM is that there are no set guidelines for what students should be learning… or how qualified the teachers need to be, for that matter.
Because there are no standards in place and schools are focusing on different topics, it’s possible that some students are not being adequately prepared for college. It’s also entirely possible that the teachers who are instructing students aren’t qualified to be teaching the subject matter.
Kids Start Too Late
Many people argue that, in order to develop a passion for subjects like science, technology and math, students need to start in elementary school.
Currently, most STEM programs start in middle school. Unfortunately, by this time it may be too late for students, who should have already learned the basic skills necessary to grasp more complex ideas later. Without the core foundation for STEM in elementary, students are more likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated and lose interest.
STEM Won’t Fix a Broken System
While it would seem that a STEM education is still largely advantageous, there is another point to consider: that the system is broken.
In Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way,” she points out that in countries with great education systems, teachers are selected from the top of their classes, highly trained (they spend a year shadowing and mastering the craft before teaching, themselves), and are well paid (the starting salary would be the same as an engineer). Teaching positions are coveted and a teacher is highly specialized in his or her field (i.e. science, math, etc.) Teachers are expected to have a master’s degree.
It would be unheard of, in another country, for someone to get a teaching position because they want to coach football, for example. Unfortunately, that’s a common scenario in the U.S.
In his article STEM: Why It Makes No Sense, Marc Tucker writes,
“When we start falling behind in an area, we invent a program. When they start falling behind, they ask, What’s wrong with our system? And they fix it. The truth is that ‘programs’ won’t work in an arena like this. The causes of our poor performance in these disciplines run deep. Those causes implicate the inner workings of our education system. It is not possible to ring fence the STEM subjects from the system itself, nor is it possible to build a strong secondary school STEM program on a weak elementary school curriculum. If you try to do that, you will fail. If you think that you can fix the problems in the STEM subjects without fixing the larger system, you will find that any progress you make will be limited and even that progress will disappear very quickly as the system reverts to form as soon as your back is turned.”
He goes on to ask, “Do you think we will have top math and science performance in our secondary schools if we staff our elementary schools with teachers who know very little math or science and are scared of both?… Do you think that we can match the performance of the top-performing countries in math, science, engineering and technology without having done the work that they have done to build first-rate curriculum to support all of those subjects from kindergarten through grade 12?”
Final Thoughts on What is Stem Education
The STEM education may be the perfect solution if your child is expressing an interest in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. However, there are pros and cons to this education:
On the plus side:
- Students are encouraged to use creative problem solving
- Kids are prepared to enter the workforce
- Promotes gender equality
On the downside:
- There are no clear standards
- Many kids start STEM too late in life
- STEM won’t fix a broken system
What do you think? Do you agree that STEM is just a band-aid on a broken system? Do your kids love STEM? We would love to hear your thoughts!