Addressing the STEM skills gap – a call to educators.
Government and industry representatives have identified school education as a key contributor to the STEM skills gap, following a considerable number of U.S. students not reaching levels of academic proficiency in science and math.
In an effort to improve academic performance and increase interest in all areas of STEM, the U.S. Department of Education is calling upon educators to improve STEM literacy levels in schools. This effort has been identified as a key solution to bridging the gap between job demand and eligible STEM applicants in years to come.
So what does being STEM-literate mean?
According to the State of California…
“A STEM-literate student is not only an innovator and critical thinker, but is able to make meaningful connections between school, community, work and global issues. A STEM-literate high school graduate can enroll in a college-level course of study in science, technology, engineering, and math without the need for remediation. STEM skills are increasingly necessary to engage in a knowledge-based economy. There is solid evidence to suggest that the fastest-growing and highest-wage jobs in future years will be in STEM fields and all employees will need to utilize STEM skills for problem solving in a wide range of industries.”
How can we create a STEM-literate student body?
Fostering engagement in STEM depends on two things: inspiring teaching and inspiring resources. Not only to convey complex principles but to instil a lasting passion for STEM in students.
Creating a STEM-literate student body starts with providing students with the appropriate STEM know-WHAT and know-HOW to equip them with the skills to succeed. The question lies in how this can be effectively executed?
STEM fields are inherently difficult and challenging for students, therefore the first step is to provide students with the resources to encourage and facilitate understanding in STEM.
To do so, teachers must engage students in learning environments which facilitate the acquisition of essential skills and knowledge. The challenging factor in this process is designing educational programs which address the individual learning needs of each student. This refers to the provision of suitable STEM learning resources and the delivery of instructional strategies to empower individual students to reach their academic potential, and importantly, develop an interest in STEM.
The Massachusetts “State STEM Plan” has identified the implementation of innovative, instructional teaching and learning strategies as a key motivator to encouraging excellence and interest in STEM. With technology engrained in STEM education, online learning environments provide an ideal platform to this achieve STEM objective – through:
- Providing students with rich multi-media learning resources (lessons, assessments & feedback) to foster true understanding;
- Supporting student achievement through the development of individualized learning pathways; and
- Promoting student interest through engaging interfaces and interactive activities.
The resources embedded in online learning environments are revolutionising STEM education, and importantly, facilitating students’ STEM know-WHAT through widening the scope of learning materials available.
“A world-class education consists not solely of mastery of core subjects, but also of training in critical thinking and problem-solving…” The U.S. Department of Education, 2013
At the core of all successful STEM endeavors lies the ability to investigate, analyze and importantly, inquire into existing and new phenomenon. With these skills unique to STEM fields, creating a STEM-literate student body depends upon students acquiring this valuable skill set.
U.S. education bodies are emphasising the importance of practicing inquiry-based learning (IBL) strategies to ensure students develop essential STEM skills during school. Through focusing on the process rather than the outcome, these learning strategies help to increase intellectual engagement and foster deeper understanding through challenging students to understand the reason behind their learning.
With class sizes increasing, this student centric learning approach can be challenging to implement in a traditional classroom setting. However fortunately, new educational technologies are providing teachers with the tools to facilitate IBL and encourage active learning in the classroom. Online learning technologies provide students with a unique opportunity to develop essential inquiry, analytical and reasoning skills through access to:
- Rich multi-media information sources.
- Interactive individual & group activities and
- 3D exploratory environments.
Through adopting a blended learning approach and integrating educational technologies into classroom practices, teachers can ensure that their students develop the essential STEM know-HOW to excel in the future.