Making STEM Education “Cool”
By Robert McNeely
Leaders from the world of education, business, and even fashion met at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. last week for a panel discussion on how to engage schools and students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. The panelists debated the many ways to “make science cool,” agreeing that greater efforts were needed to foster student interest in the subject, increase its prevalence in elementary schools, and address the current gender gap in STEM-related jobs.
The eight-person panel included Anousheh Ansari, Chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Marc Ecko, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Marc EckoEnterprises, Tom Luce, Chief Executive Officer of the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc., and Dr. Linda P. Rosen, Chief Executive Officer of Change the Equation.
Brian Kelly, Editor of U.S. News & World Report, moderated the panel and challenged the panel on key issues such as developing effective STEM programs to fit the needs of all public schools and using innovations inside the classroom in the early stages of a child’s educational development.
The panelists agreed that students needed to have access to current STEM data in the classroom. Ansari said STEM education had to be interactive, with students being able to study material that will prepare them for 21st century jobs. To accomplish this, however, an emphasis on better funding for STEM education is needed throughout the country.
The panelists also advocated STEM learning at an early age. Rosen said that students needed to be immersed in STEM education because, without a vast knowledge of how prevalent STEM is in the workforce, students will continue to show little interest in the subjects.
“You don’t know which moment or experience is going to inspire kids to STEM learning and careers so we have to drench our kids experiences with science and math. They also need to see and hear about people who have made their way from an interest in science to a career,” said Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer of curriki.org, a K-12 teacher resource site.
Ecko believes that the private sector needs to be more involved with the education system to demonstrate that not every STEM-related job requires, as Ansari described it, “sitting in a lab with a white coat all day.”
Ecko warned, however, that schools and policymakers need to keep up with the rapidly-changing technological landscape and become more willing to try new things.
“Philanthropy and the private sector, there’s only so much tolerance they have to keep banging their head into the wall over and over again,” Ecko said. “There’s a certain point that the folks on the ground at a local level have to start being less xenophobic. [They say] ‘Oh, my kids are good, those kids are the problem,’ [The problem is] all of us, folks.”
One of the longest-standing problems surrounding science and math education is the gender gap, recently highlighted in a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The report found that women are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, despite the fact that they make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. Lack of female role models, and gender stereotyping were cited as chief causes of this gap.
Rosen noted that the media tends to portray science and technology as “geeky and nerdy” and that a cultural change is necessary to promote the efforts of equalizing STEM jobs. Rosen also noted that many other countries don’t have a gender gap problem because their emphasis on STEM careers don’t single out one gender.
The efforts at closing the gender gap underscore how important STEM is for the nation’s economic competitiveness. The National Education Association believes future prosperity is tied to innovation spurred on by all students’ engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The common core standards, says NEA Senior Policy Analyst Mike Kaspar, care crucial to this effort.
“NEA and educators are supporting the common core standards and assessments,” Kaspar explains, “both to better prepare students for the challenges of the mathematics required in engineering careers and to create more positive experiences in math.”