Op/Ed: Getting Our Students STEM Ready

We need to invest in America's best resource -- our students.

STEM readiness involves bridging the gap in formal and non-formal learning.

STEM readiness involves bridging the gap in formal and non-formal learning.

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It is a universal law of nature that in order for something to be born, something must die. This evolving cycle applies to all things, including the way we teach our children. The US education system is undergoing an exciting "rebirth" as the introduction of new technology, neuroscience-based teaching and age-appropriate forms of "hands-on" learning emerge as ways to engage students, inspire more creativity and involve students in the process of learning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Fostering STEM skills in America's youth is a hot topic and of keen interest among academia, government, non profits and corporations as we bridge the knowledge gap, making our future workforce more competitive and securing the promise of our global competitiveness.

Realizing the importance the goal of exciting young people about the link between STEM studies and a great career, companies like AT&T (through the AT&T Foundation) have given more than $97 million to support STEM initiatives since 1987. Advancing STEM education is also a critical focus for companies like Lockheed Martin. It's Engineers in the Classroom STEM education outreach initiative helps employees interact with the next generation of engineers and technologists by serving as local school advisers, extracurricular activity mentors and career role models for students in their communities.

A recent study published in 2012 by GSV Asset Management, "The American Revolution 2.0 – How Education Innovation is going to Revitalize America and Transform the US Economy," reveals some compelling reasons why STEM education needs to be a focused priority and why we can ill afford to delay the implementation. To borrow a quote from the study: "Tragically, in a world where knowledge and education are the fundamental currency needed to participate in a global marketplace almost a quarter of students are not graduating from high school on time and most young adults are entering college ill-prepared." The study also released the US rankings in competitiveness, based on data from the National Academy of Sciences. The US ranked 15th out of 65 countries or regions tested for science literacy among top students; for science proficiency among 15 year olds the US ranked 23rd. Worse yet, the US ranked 28th among 65 countries or regions tested for mathematics literacy among top students and 31st for mathematics proficiency among 15 year olds against the same group tested. Underscoring the critical nature of getting our students STEM ready, the US ranked 40th in innovation-based competitiveness in the past decade

The solution: an investment in America's best resource -- our students. The future of this great country depends on making the focus of getting our students STEM ready a national priority.

STEM readiness involves bridging the gap in formal and non-formal learning, where students are able to learn real life skills, and failure-based learning, where failure is seen as a part of the natural process of innovation and where students can engage in hands-on learning. This will encourage students to develop their creativity and maintain a keen interest in STEM subjects. The path to creativity is an exploration, not a destination, and needs to be taught as such. Hands-on learning, applied appropriately, acknowledges that every student is unique and is adaptable and flexible; it provides the opportunity for students to progress at their own pace while rewarding them for staying on the path to building fundamentals. In essence, the classroom becomes a learning lab with the focus on engaging students in an exploration that fosters creativity, innovation and lifetime learning.

Ultimately, the pathway from where we are now to a future where students are prepared with 21st-century skills for great careers involves inspiring our students to see themselves as the engineers, inventors, scientists and leaders of the future. As one of America's most famous visionaries, Walt Disney, shared: "It all started with a mouse." Igniting that creative spark for STEM learning all starts with a dream. Our classrooms and after-school settings must be transformed to create the space for students to "be inspired to find their dream."



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