by Alexandra Meyers
STEM Education. We’ve all heard about it, we know what it is. It’s a nationwide program intended to educate students with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics throughout elementary, middle, and high school. The goal of STEM programs in the United States is to encourage students of all ages and genders to discover what they’re passionate about and to eventually pursue careers in these fields. The acronym is not only sweeping the nation as one of the highest priorities in schools, but it’s infiltrating the job market too. From 2014 to 2024, STEM careers are projected to grow roughly 6.5% resulting in about 42,900 new jobs over this period of time.
So the question then becomes, is STEM education hurting or helping our students? Are these programs effective in United States academia?
I did some research and really started to dive into educator’s opinions of the STEM programs. My gut-feeling rang true – the opinions on STEM programs are quite convoluted and varied between educators and politicians. Here’s what I found:
Most educators – Kindergarten through College – believe that STEM programs can be beneficial. However, they’re more skeptical and discouraged than anything right now. While they believe that STEM education is important, they overwhelming doubt its effectiveness in our school systems. They’re the individuals seeing it first-hand. To me – that’s a big problem.
On the other side, government agencies believe that STEM programs are key to the United States’ success.
Let’s Dive Deeper
The United States economy is technology-driven. We have smart phones attached to us like a 5th limb. Companies hold business meetings via the web on a regular basis. There are self-driving cars. This is the future. So of course, educating our children to embrace and continue improving technology makes sense. On that note, a majority of academia professionals believe we’re not starting STEM education early enough and as a result are remaining stagnant when compared to other countries. Other countries are far head in producing quantity and quality people with STEM skills. Now the fear sets in. We’re not rising so we must be sinking. Our answer? Create a new program and pour resources into this program.
Here’s the interesting thing: Countries that are climbing and consistently rank higher than us in the production of STEM-skilled individuals don’t have STEM specific programs at all. In fact, when countries like China, South Korea, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, etc. start falling behind, they fix the problems with their current programs. What does this do?
- Faster Implementation – Looking for areas of improvement in established programs. This means less time on figuring out what to create and more time focused on fixing the problems at hand. Do I want to build a new house from the ground up every time there’s a leak or do I want to patch the leak?
- Less Money Spent – Less time spent on creating new programs means less money spent. Less grant money, less salaries paid, less equipment & supplies purchased, less everything.
- Quicker Results – Once you have a solution, you can immediately test it to see if you get the desired results and iterate until you have a working system.
While some educators are skeptical about STEM’s success, and hard-cold facts are scarcely distributed, there are a few shared thoughts.
What are some downfalls of the STEM Program?
Starting STEM Programs too Late
One of the goals of the STEM program is to interest young people early on in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. However, most school systems don’t start teaching these courses until late elementary/early middle school (about 4-6th grade). By this point in a child’s life, they’re already developing their interests and their passions. Furthermore, they know what they’re good at in school and they’ve worked to hone those skills. Now, educators attempt to push them in a new direction and, simply put, it backfires.
Lack of Passion and Interest
A student’s individual passions cannot be controlled by educators or government. While they can prioritize STEM programs as much as they’d like, if a student isn’t interested in the subject, they aren’t going to be successful. In fact, some experts say, the amount of focus that is put on STEM careers may even discourage students who are interested in business, liberal arts, humanities, and the like.
Industry-Level “Pull” Strategy is Missing
There is and has been a strong “push” strategy starting from the top and trickling down to schools. From classroom curriculum to local and national competitions, it’s clear academia is “pushing” programs more than students are driving them. Conversely, experts claim that the market is severely lacking in industry participation. Essentially, academia needs companies and STEM industries to be more involved in the encouragement of young professionals via mentors, internships, role models, classroom participation, etc. We need more of a “pull” effort by industries.
If you’re a company specializing in or hiring STEM positions, look for ways to get involved with local schools and youth organizations. Show them that yes, it may be difficult to get through the assignments, but the output is worth it.
While STEM programs are heavily debated, it’s clear that the system is not perfect and can be limiting. Nevertheless, there is and will continue to be, a rise in the number of projected STEM occupations. If academia and industry professionals can work together in targeting our young innovators of tomorrow, there is hope for the success of STEM programs nationwide.
What are your thoughts and opinions on STEM programs? Have you seen it being effective in your family’s lives? Comment below to share with us or tweet us at @LTronCorp!