Enhancing STEM Education for the 21st Century
In the U.S., STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) literacy lags behind many other countries, and (more significantly) we are not preparing the next generation to meet our nation’s needs in the 21st century. A 2012 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey of 34 countries revealed that:
- In math skills, the U.S. trails 24 countries.
- In science, the U.S. is behind 18 countries.
According to Eddie Fraser of STEM Connector, there are “2.5 million STEM jobs that are not being filled.” Many jobs in STEM-related fields, especially in computer and engineering fields, are being filled by guest workers from foreign countries.
Over the last 15 years, I have worked with many other volunteers to encourage students to pursue STEM education. The experience has been very rewarding, and I have noted that many students are quite interested in pursuing their studies in science and technology. But at the same time, it has been frustrating to learn that even highly promising students have given up their pursuit due to lack of support at home, in school, or from society as a whole.
So what must we do to enhance the STEM literacy in this country and better prepare students for the technical challenges the future holds? I suggest a new approach in our education system.
Begin Early, Pre-K to 5th Grade. STEM education should begin very early in a child’s life. We have to encourage more young children to study STEM by providing exciting and age-appropriate training to stimulate their interest in mathematics and technology. Teachers must be trained in early childhood technology education, and parents must also support their children’s STEM learning. Even small steps can help encourage STEM learning at home, from choosing a science-rich outing at a museum or nature center, to finding a STEM-tastic gift for your child this holiday season.
Assess Children Early. A child’s aptitude for technology education should be assessed as early as possible after he or she leaves elementary school. This will enable educators to design a study plan for each child. Our education system must nurture a student’s interest in STEM education.
Involve all Stakeholders. In addition to parents and educators, other stakeholders must get involved in promoting STEM education among students, including industry professionals and community leaders. These stakeholders can be involved by participating in STEM-related competitions, visiting classrooms to speak with students, providing internship opportunities, and mentoring.
Provide Appropriate Training Opportunities. Both the private and public sectors should provide training opportunities for high school students to further their interest in STEM careers. Many children graduate from high school with proficiency in STEM subjects, only to lose interest at a later stage.
Last month, Maryland launched the first Maryland STEM Festival, a week-long celebration that saw libraries, universities, and other organizations across the state host more than 300 events and activities to get young people and adults interested in STEM and the many potential STEM-related careers. This is exactly the type of involvement needed—bringing students, educators, industry professionals, and government together for the common goal of promoting STEM fields.
In order to compete in the 21st century, the U.S. must educate and graduate more students in science and technology fields. Whether it’s a parent taking his or her child to their local science museum, an engineer volunteering for MATHCOUNTS, a company providing internship opportunities, or an elected official working to boost STEM education, we must all work together to encourage and nurture the next generation of STEM professionals.
Kunal Gangopadhyay, PE, a Senior Associate and Founder of EBA Engineering, Inc., is a passionate advocate for STEM education. He is a member and former chairman of the Baltimore County Career and Technology Education Advisory Council (CTEAC), as well as a frequent volunteer, mentor, and adviser. Kunal can be reached at 410.504.6064 or email@example.com.