STEM in Education: Why is it important?

A quick Google search shows thousands of scholarly articles[1] discussing the importance of STEM education and how it can positively impact our children and our ability to compete with global innovation. To better understand why people are becoming increasingly focused on STEM education, let's take a look at what it is as well as the benefits it provides.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and covers a broad range of fields. For example, the computer you are using to read this post had engineers to design all the hardware from the chassis to the circuits to everything in between. The operating system (Mac, Windows, Linux, etc.) was built by several teams of developers and the browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge neé Internet Explorer, etc.) was written by other teams of developers. The house you live in was designed by architects and engineers. The copper cables that provide us with landline phone, television, and internet usage, the towers that provide us with cellular connectivity were designed by engineers. The surgeon fixing your heart, the anesthetists keeping you sedated and alive, and all of the other doctors, PAs, and nurses responsible for your recovery and aftercare. Designing farming equipment. Food production. Medical research. Insurance (actuaries). Cryptography for your passwords and other sensitive data. Certain legal professions (how can you defend intellectual property if you don't understand the science/tech behind it?) And more.[2]

It suffices to say that in our modern world, the influence of STEM is booming and doesn't seem to be slowing down. In fact, almost all of US News' top 25 paying jobs[4] are STEM professions and a similar list based on LinkedIn's salary data[3] shows more of the same. This high value starts right out of the gate: the NACE Salary Survey of Starting Salaries for New College Graduates shows that students with STEM degrees can expect higher starting salaries than their counterparts with degrees in other disciplines such as the humanities or education[4].

Given all of this, I think we can definitely start to feel why there is such an interest in STEM education. Insofar as direct impacts we definitely benefit as a society from having well educated medical staff, engineers, etc. so they can make sound decisions regarding our healthcare, infrastructure, and so on. That said, while there is currently a "STEM boom", there are other facets of life to consider. Career-wise, only ~6% of the US workforce/~15% of the professional labor force are employed in STEM fields[5], so there are clearly a lot of non-STEM jobs to be found. So what about outside of work? Let's get started.

In the home, our children are being raised around a lot of technology. In developed countries it isn't uncommon to see children with electronic toys or with access to apps on their parents' (or their own) mobile devices and tablets. Examples of this are children's books that are available to read on Kindle, the various LeapFrog educational toys, the Kids section of the Apple App Store (introduced in 2013[6]). The ever expanding "Internet of Things" that will make things like this:

Cedric Diggory

Source: Base image from Pottermore

more reality than fantasy. You can now do tasks like controlling your appliances from your phone[7] or even connect to your car.

With so much technology it is not only important for us to be able to use it effectively, but for us to be able to teach our children to do so as well. The way to do that, of course, is by teaching them about technology.

Moving on from technology, let's take a quick look at how mathematics comes up in everyone's daily lives. Being able to balance budgets, living expenses, savings, investments, and so forth require a solid understanding of mathematics. Cooking involves a lot of math for timings and temperatures, and inventing new recipes requires a solid knowledge of food chemistry[8] and knowing how flavors will interact. (Who knew STEM could be so important to home ec?)

There are of course the tangential benefits as well. A great deal of STEM education is devoted to the practice of being able to determine results based on limited information. For example, with mathematics you may not ever need to write a geometry or trigonometry proof again after leaving school, but you use the concept of learning "the rules", and applying them to limited information to arrive to conclusions, all the time. Studies have even shown that children learn better, in a variety of situations, just by being taught how they solve the problems they encounter and boosting their critical thinking skills.[9],[10]

I could go on, but I think it is clear that STEM education plays a very important role in developing young minds to learn how function in our modern society. There are already several large tech companies investing in STEM education[11] as well as efforts made by the previous administration to bolster STEM education and funding[12]. Hopefully these efforts will continue under the current administration as well as they begin to set up their own goals and hopes for the education of our children.

Beyond all of that, providing both our children and ourselves with opportunities to improve our own abilities becomes a very personal effort. WNY STEM has a great list to help get you started here.

Resources

  1. Google search, 26 Feb 2017
  2. CareerWISE. "Career Search Results." Explore Careers. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. https://www.careerwise.mnscu.edu/careers/viewCareers?id=15.
  3. Sandler, Ryan. "The Highest Paying Jobs in America Based On LinkedIn Salary Data." The Highest Paying Jobs in America Based On LinkedIn Salary Data. LinkedIn, 10 Jan. 2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. https://blog.linkedin.com/2017/highest-paying-jobs-in-america-based-on-linkedin-salary-data.
  4. Koc, Edwin W., Andrea J. Koncz, Kenneth C. Tsang, and Anna Longenberger. "NACE Winter 2016 Salary Survey." Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne De Sante'e Publique 38.1 (1947): 58-59. NACE Web. National Association Of Colleges And Employers, Jan. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. http://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/content/static-assets/downloads/executive-summary/2016-january-salary-survey-executive-summary.pdf.
  5. "The STEM Workforce: An Occupational Overview." Department for Professional Employees. N.p., June 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. http://dpeaflcio.org/programs-publications/issue-fact-sheets/the-stem-workforce-an-occupational-overview/.
  6. Perez, Sarah. "Introducing Apple’s New “Kids” App Store." TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. https://techcrunch.com/2013/09/22/introducing-apples-new-kids-app-store/.
  7. Staff. "16 of the Coolest Smartphone Connected Appliances (list)." Gadget Review. Gadget Review, 11 June 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. http://www.gadgetreview.com/16-of-the-coolest-smartphone-connected-appliances.
  8. Wikipedia contributors. "Food chemistry." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jan. 2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
  9. Dewar, Gwen. "Teaching Critical Thinking: An Evidence-based Guide." Parenting Science – The Science of Child-rearing and Child Development. Parenting Science, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. http://www.parentingscience.com/teaching-critical-thinking.html.
  10. Dewar, Gwen. "Turning the Tables to Help Kids Learn Math and Science." Parenting Science – The Science of Child-rearing and Child Development. Parenting Science, 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. http://www.parentingscience.com/kids-learn-math-and-science.html.
  11. OnlineCollege.org. "11 Tech Companies Investing in Education." OnlineCollege.org. N.p., 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. http://www.onlinecollege.org/2011/12/06/11-tech-companies-investing-in-education/.
  12. "Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership." Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership | U.S. Department of Education. US Department of Education, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017. https://www.ed.gov/stem.

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Quintessence

Quintessence is an engineer working with cloud platforms whose interest in science started at age 6 when she looked up at the stars and wanted to know more, an interest that continues to this day.