For nearly sixty years, there has been a growing shift in U.S. education toward science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. STEM is an interdisciplinary approach meant to help students become creative and critical thinkers, learn to problem-solve and ask questions, and develop valuable professional and personal skills.
Adding “art” to the acronym (STEAM), is just one way that STEM educators have adapted to changes in our economy, culture, and educational priorities.
At it’s core, STEM is an educational philosophy that embraces progress and innovation, and therefore, change and adaptation. As we move into 2018, let’s ask ourselves how recent lessons can inspire us to continue to approach STEM with this progressive and adaptive spirit.
Are We Accurately Representing STEM Career Advantage?
A recent article from the New York Times encourages educators to take a closer look before touting STEM as the all-around best path to future career success. As cited in the article, (as well as an article from CNBC) the most marketable skills today are all in computing and data analytics, and not in traditional sciences. In other words: while some STEM subjects are extremely marketable, not all STEM subjects are created equally.
The article goes on to name several traditional scientists (a dark-matter physicist and neuroscientist, specifically) that couldn’t find adequate jobs in their fields, and chose to switch to computing.
That said, in Fortune’s list of “best and worst graduate degrees for jobs“, for example, the top 15 are unanimously STEM, and the bottom 15 (unless you count architecture) are not. So, although the Time’s observation is duly noted, let’s not rule out STEM’s advantage in the job market broadly.
One could also argue that every subject in STEM teaches marketable skills that are not so subject specific. For example, every STEM subject teaches kids to “solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information“. Those skills would make it easier to switch between STEM careers later in life.
Moving forward into 2018, this Times article reminds us of our responsibility to be honest to students who are investing time and money into their futures. While enthusiasm about STEM sweeps the country, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. Let’s not forget the importance of backing up claims with facts. After all, evidence-based research is at the heart of what STEM seeks to import onto tomorrow’s workforce.
Is the Battleground Shifting for Fighting Gender Inequality in STEM?
2017’s research supports the notion that, although women are studying STEM subjects in school, they continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. In a recent study from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), while “white men constitute about one-third of the overall U.S. population; they comprise half of the S&E workforce.“.
While this may seem like the sad but true phenomenon STEM has been dealing with since its beginnings, according to a recent survey, high school and college-age women statistically show more interest in, and devote more time to, STEM subjects than their male counterparts.
However, they express less confidence when asked about their preparedness to work in tomorrow’s hottest STEM fields, like AI and self-driving cars.
This information suggests two things:
- That, although women study STEM more than men, they lean heavily towards the less market-ready STEM skills. This is supported by the same NCSES study, reporting that only 18% of women study computer sciences, while 70% study psychology.
- That even when women do study STEM skills equally, and show more interest, they are not as confident as men when it comes to job seeking in these fields.
Both issues suggest that the problem is as much cultural as it is institutional. One issue may be that women don’t feel confidant pursuing computing jobs due to socialization. A recent BBC informal experiment, in which adults encourage children to play with toys, exemplifies how gender socialization begins in the home.
Girls were given dolls and soft cat stuffed animals by the adults, while boys were given robots, shapes, and toys that encourage physicality. When confronted, the adults were shocked by their own gender biases.
As we enter into 2018, these studies suggest that educators examine their own gender biases, and encourage parents to do the same at home.
Conclusion: STEM In 2018
There are many initiatives to get STEM programs into all levels of schooling across the country, most importantly in underserved communities. STEM education is also one of the rare issues in the U.S. today that is potentially bipartisan. A memorandum, issued by President Trump back in September of this year, directed $200 million towards STEM within the Department of Education. As nationally popular as STEM may be, 2017 has taught us not to become dogmatic in our approach, and to always remain adaptive to the needs of our students and future generations.
About the author:
Tori Galatro is a freelance writer and content marketer based in Austin, TX who loves to write about education, child development, and a many other topics. She is also a guest blogger for pricelisto.com.
You can find more information about her and more samples of her published work at http://www.torigalatro.com/.
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