Why is STEM Education Important? Dispelling the Myths with Cold Hard Facts!

Written by Aziz Shaik
Last updated on December 17, 2021

The term “STEM” is thrown around quite a bit these days in the education world. I’m sure we’ve all wondered why.

Besides the personal benefits it comes with, we as a society are in need of individuals who are ready to meet the demands and challenges of the world we live in today. STEM was created to solve this need.

Having studied the computer sciences and engineering all my life, I can attest to the substantial benefits it has had on me personally and professionally. Having worked on many projects with an under-staffed team, I can also attest to the fact that we are in great need of skilled workers

The QUESTION is, are we, and is our education system preparing our students for the world of tomorrow? 

I did extensive research to dispel the myth around STEM education. How and why did it all begin? Why has it become so important? How do we all benefit from it? And how do we move forward? Let’s get right into it!

What is STEM?

STEM is more than the makeup of four subjects thrown together. It is more than a fancy acronym.

It is a philosophy that encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and innovation through hands-on learning.

It switches a student’s thought process from a mode of consumption into a mode of production.

It promotes the crossover of different fields to create cutting-edge solutions.

It is an applicable style of learning replacing outdated industrial-age rote learning. This critical component allows one to apply acquired knowledge immediately.

It is about using Science, Math, Technology, and Engineering to solve real-world problems. This is a stark contrast to the imaginary problems we find in textbooks.

It is an approach where students can take foundational concepts to research, explore, design, and build solutions.

It is an evergreen form of education that comes with a long list of personal, social, and economical benefits.

STEM Overview Infographic

We are in dire need of folks that can hang with the technological demands of today and the future. Individuals who can innovate. STEM education provides guidelines to develop students for the world of tomorrow.

The importance of STEM

To understand the importance of STEM we need to understand why the term came into prominence in the first place. In a 2005 report, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” it was made clear if the US education system were to stay as it is, it would lose its place as a world leader in technological advancements. A change was needed, and that change was a deeper focus on a collection of subjects that bring about innovation. Subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

That, however, is the tip of the iceberg in answering why STEM education has become so important.

There are several other factors making the need for STEM education even more apparent.

The key to success with STEM lies in the parents’, teachers', and educators' hands. If we understand the reasons for and the benefits of it, then it’s simply a matter of implementation. So let’s tackle those first steps of understanding STEM on a deeper level!

The World Needs Innovators and Problem-solvers

Why is STEM Education Important

From past inventions to the ongoing innovations we are seeing in today’s world, sharp minds were behind them all. These minds needed a strong foundation in one of or a combination of STEM subjects. Whether it be innovation (i.e. the advent of AI, space exploration) or solutions (COVID-19 vaccine, climate change research), the folks behind them harnessed their STEM skills to change the world for the better.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, for better or for worse. For problems like climate change, we are going to need the best minds in science and technology to rectify the problem. For advancements like AI, there is a need for a more technology-literate workforce.

Now more than ever, we need to prepare our future generations for the world of today and tomorrow. We need them to be equipped to take on the most complex challenges and problems. We need to instill soft skills such as critical thinking in young people. With an increasing population and problems, the next generation will have to formulate practical ideas and find innovative solutions. Solutions to help supply meet demand, fight poverty, viruses, and economical problems. For this, we need a STEM-literate society that is able to work together, share ideas and solve problems.

Shortage of Skilled Workers

“It appears the need for STEM talent has never been more critical. There are more STEM jobs today than there are applicants. Our country isn’t producing enough talent to fill these positions.”

Manish Mohan, KForce Chief Global Talent Officer

As the world increasingly needs problems solved, so will the need for problem solvers. There are many roles in STEM fields going unfulfilled in the job market today. A STEM-literate workforce is in an all-time high demand.

While some have argued against such a need (calling it a myth), we need only look at the numbers.

  • A 10.5% increase in STEM occupations between 2020-2030 is projected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.[1]
  • By 2025, there will be a total of 3.5 million manufacturing-related jobs in the US. 2 million of those jobs are predicted to go unfilled. The reason cited as a “lack of STEM skills among workers”.[2]
  • In 2020 alone, the US Department of Education awarded $141 million in new grants and $437 million to existing STEM education programs. More than $1 billion between 2018-2020. [4]
  • Burning Glass reported an average of 2.5 STEM job postings for a single STEM graduate. [5]
Statistics - STEM Job Growth between 2020-2030.

With baby boomers retiring, the demand for certain products and services rising, and new advanced technologies being continuously introduced these numbers come with no surprise. Forget designing and implementing innovative solutions, we first need to address the demand for essential needs and services. The global economy will thank us for doing so.

Close the Gender and Minorities Gap

The ethnic and gender gaps are real, more so in the STEM world.

Based on a 2014 research by the NSF (National Science Foundation), female participation in STEM-related majors rounds out to about 20%. Minority participation is an even more abysmal average of 5%.

Why are females less likely to pursue STEM-based occupations though? According to Pew Research Center [5], some of the major reasons include...

  • Discrimination in recruitment and hiring.
  • The thought that women are less likely to succeed in STEM.
  • Lack of role models.

Minorities (blacks and Hispanics) experience barriers in a different way. According to Pew Research Center [5], some of the major reasons include…

  • Lack of access to quality education to prepare them for STEM jobs.
  • No encouragement at an early age results in the thought that they’re less likely to succeed.

We need a diverse workforce to thrive as a society. With a diverse workforce, we get varying perspectives that will produce the most viable product or solution. It makes good business and economic sense to have an increased number of skilled workers.

In the end, we need a world where everyone is able to thrive in an equal manner. The US government coupled with focus programs is a good start. Programs such as summer camps, local science centers, and student clubs are all created to provide these opportunities. The hope is it will lead to breaking these barriers and providing an equal platform for everyone to excel.

Benefits of STEM Education

The benefits of a STEM-based education are plentiful. Everyone wins in various ways.

How Educators Benefit

Educators are the key to it all. The school is after all where a child’s journey begins. When we propel a child with a robust STEM education from a young age, the path becomes that much easier for everyone. Here are some ways educators benefit from STEM education.

  • Students are better able to retain knowledge due to the hands-on approach and real-world application.
  • Within a STEM curriculum, teachers are better able to keep students engaged through project-based learning.
  • Every child learns differently, whether that be conceptually, visually, or experimentally. STEM learning methods adapt to the way students learn and not the other way around.
  • STEM moves the education system away from a grades-focused, reward-based agenda. It gives us a system where any child can thrive by playing to their strengths.

How Children Benefit

Children are the primary beneficiaries of the system and rightfully so.

Readiness for Higher Education

Currently, 78% of high school graduates do not meet the readiness level for STEM-related college courses. By integrating STEM learning techniques we better prepare our kids for higher education and their future career.

Soft Skills

How STEM Education Helps Kids

STEM education helps students level up in many important life skills.

Life and soft skills such as -

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Project and task management
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Decision-making
  • Leadership
  • Persistence
  • Creativity

All these not only help in academia but in every aspect of life.

Rewarding Career

STEM disciplines and careers are also financially-rewarding. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage of a STEM job ($89k) is more than twice that of a non-STEM job ($40k). [1]

Statistics - STEM median salary

How Society Benefits

When kids are nurtured to be problem solvers, society benefits by having all the aforementioned issues resolved. Critical problems will be addressed making it a pleasant world for all to live in. There will be sufficient workers to fill roles requiring a specific ability. No longer will there be such a huge gender or minorities disparity in the workforce. Innovative solutions will be had for all to enjoy and make life easier. The economy will bloom with entrepreneurs creating new businesses, in turn creating more jobs.

How To Move Forward

It’s important to take a step back and understand once again that STEM is not just a collection of topics deemed important. It is a way of teaching and learning. A method that prepares our children for the world of today and tomorrow.

The government and other large organizations realize this. And thus are creating strategic partnerships to develop a pipeline for students to grow into the skilled workers needed for the future. There are dime a dozen of these STEM education programs to facilitate the growth of children.

Let’s do our part as parents and educators. Let’s be proactive in integrating STEM activities and techniques into our everyday teachings. Let's take advantage of the STEM education programs available to us. By doing so, we take one step closer to closing the much-dreaded looming skills gap. Our children reap the rewards by the way of a rewarding career. And we as a society benefit from a better world to live in.

References

[1] Employment in STEM Occupations

[2] The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing.

[3] Help Wanted.

[4] U.S. Department of Education STEM Investments

[5] Real-Time Insight into the Market for Entry-level STEM jobs

[6] Pew ResearchCenter

Article written by Aziz Shaik
Aziz grew up taking anything and everything that he could get his hands on apart. This curiosity eventually led him down a career path in Software Engineering. Before that, he delved into other majors during his time in college ranging from Chemistry, Microbiology, and Advanced Calculus. Eventually, he found his true passion in Computer Science, though continues his love for other STEM topics by finding creative ways in teaching his kids.

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