STEM Education: The Way of the Future?

If you work in education, have children, edit children’s nonfiction books, or spend any time on social media, you’ve probably heard of STEM education. STEM education focuses on the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. And you might have come across STEAM education as well, which adds the Arts. Schools, administrators, parents, researchers, and politicians have long held STEM education to be the goal to strive for in an age of tightening school budgets. But is this tightened focus on a handful of subjects going to be worth it?

We’ve heard for a long time that there won’t be enough people with the STEM skills necessary to fill the engineering and tech jobs that are believed to be coming in the next decade or so. Studies have shown that the technology industry will grow at an incredible rate and we’ll need workers who can code, designers who can problem solve, and innovators who can understand what we need before we even need it. The solution to this potential gap between supply and demand is a greater emphasis on STEM education, starting in elementary school and reaching all the way through the graduate level. The STEM education solution drives conversations about curriculum, state standards, national testing, and funding at every level, whether it’s the local PTA planning a school-wide maker faire or President Obama addressing the nation at a science fair.

But there are other opinions, too. Some experts say that there is actually a glut of STEM workers, that companies are laying off more STEM experts than they’re hiring, and will continue to do so in the future. Others point out that many STEM workers didn’t study STEM subjects in college anyway. And there are plenty of people who say a solid liberal arts education is exactly what is needed to produce the innovators who will shape our world. Some people argue that it’s the immersion into lots of different topics that gives students the edge when competing with the rest of the world.

Who’s right? We might not know for another ten years or so, and by then there’s a good chance we’ll be focused on a different education issue. But it’s a conversation worth having.

Here at Nomad, STEM is often on our collective mind. Most of our books carry a STEM or STEAM designation on the back cover. For us, this means our books teach and encourage creative and critical thinking and problem solving. When we think of science, technology, engineering, and math, we think of discovery, persistence, and eureka moments. We think of exploration and questioning. We think of the scientific method and the engineering design process.

An education that culminates in a solid foundation of science, technology, engineering, and math is never a bad thing. The danger is when we focus on these fields to the detriment of other fields, such as language arts, history, visual arts, music, and social studies. There’s more danger in assuming that because college students major in STEM subjects, they will find well-paying jobs upon graduation.

The critical and creative thinking skills that children learn through STEM or STEAM curriculum can be applied across disciplines. Learning to think is an essential part of any engaging career.

Image credit: Pink Sherbert via Creative Commons

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