STEM is an approach to learning and development that integrates the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Why is STEM important?
The global economy is changing. Current jobs are disappearing due to automation and new jobs are emerging every day as a result of technological advances.
The continual advances in technology are changing the way students learn, connect and interact every day. Skills developed by students through STEM provide them with the foundation to succeed at school and beyond.
Employer demand for STEM qualifications and skills is high, and will continue to increase in the future. Currently, 75 per cent of jobs in the fastest growing industries require workers with STEM skills. To be competitive, the world workforce needs people who can adapt to a changing workplace.
Recent projections estimate the need for 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs. The manufacturing sector faces an alarmingly large shortage of employees with the necessary skills — nearly 600,000. The field of cloud computing alone will have created 1.7 million jobs between 2011 and 2015, according to the report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, the bulk of STEM careers will be:
- Computing – 71 percent
- Traditional Engineering – 16 percent
- Physical sciences – 7 percent
- Life sciences – 4 percent
- Mathematics – 2 percent
STEM jobs do not all require higher education or even a college degree. Less than half of entry-level STEM jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, a four-year degree is incredibly helpful with salary — the average advertised starting salary for entry-level STEM jobs with a bachelor’s requirement was 26 percent higher than jobs in the non-STEM fields, according to the STEMconnect report. For every job posting for a bachelor’s degree recipient in a non-STEM field, there were 2.5 entry-level job postings for a bachelor’s degree recipient in a STEM field.
In the United Kingdom, the Royal Academy of Engineering reports that the Brits will have to graduate 100,000 STEM majors every year until 2020 just to meet demand. According to the report, Germany has a shortage of 210,000 workers in the mathematics, computer science, natural science and technology disciplines.
What separates STEM from the traditional science and math education is the blended learning environment and showing students how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life. It teaches students computational thinking and focuses on the real world applications of problem solving. As mentioned before, STEM education begins while students are very young:
Elementary school — STEM education focuses on the introductory level STEM courses, as well as awareness of the STEM fields and occupations. This initial step provides standards-based structured inquiry-based and real world problem-based learning, connecting all four of the STEM subjects. The goal is to pique students’ interest into them wanting to pursue the courses, not because they have to. There is also an emphasis placed on bridging in-school and out-of-school STEM learning opportunities.
Middle school — At this stage, the courses become more rigorous and challenging. Student awareness of STEM fields and occupations is still pursued, as well as the academic requirements of such fields. Student exploration of STEM related careers begins at this level, particularly for underrepresented populations.
High school — The program of study focuses on the application of the subjects in a challenging and rigorous manner. Students are often involved in complex development of robotics, for example, using Lego. Courses and pathways are now available in STEM fields and occupations, as well as preparation for post-secondary education and employment. More emphasis is placed on bridging in-school and out-of-school STEM opportunities.
Much of the STEM curriculum is aimed toward attracting underrepresented populations. Female students, for example, are significantly less likely to pursue a college major or career. Though this is nothing new, the gap is increasing at a significant rate. Male students are also more likely to pursue engineering and technology fields, while female students prefer science fields, like biology, chemistry, and marine biology. Overall, male students are three times more likely to be interested in pursuing a STEM career, the STEMconnect report said.
Ethnically, Asian students have historically displayed the highest level of interest in the STEM fields. Prior to 2001, students of an African-American background also showed high levels of interest in STEM fields, second only to the Asian demographic. However, since then, African-American interest in STEM has dropped dramatically to lower than any other ethnicity. Other ethnicities with high STEM interest include American Indian students.