STEM Education – Game Changer In Education And Industry

The 21st-century skills, especially the ‘creativity and critical thinking’ need a higher degree of knowledge, one that is not so compartmentalized and slanted. We cannot also cope with a system that is trained to leave many children behind.

The Industrial Era saw a shift in manufacturing from homes to larger units. Referring to the ‘pin factory’, Adam Smith, the famous economist deliberated on how people with different specializations worked together to enhance productivity and the wealth of society at large. There was, however, a bigger and more relevant question that he raised:

 “The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become." 

(An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776).

The industrial revolution paved the way for formal education, (a system we follow to date), where many people did not require to be educated to high levels, so schools promoted a few who could do managerial and professional work and sent the rest away to assembly lines. Today, however, such repetitive processes are being easily accomplished through automation (Robotics being the latest). The 21st-century skills, especially the ‘creativity and critical thinking’ need a higher degree of knowledge, one that is not so compartmentalized and slanted. We cannot also cope with a system that is trained to leave many children behind.

It is high time we left behind the outdated system and ushered in one that’s integrated and inclusive. Something that will equip children with the skills required for the 21st century and promote creativity, critical thinking, and innovation for a future, where like Professor Michio Kaku said, ‘the only constant will change’. A sound foundational knowledge, mathematics and science, critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration skills would then be the minimum required education for every student. STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) offers the perfect solution. STEAM and STREAM are the variants with Art and Reading added to it.

The National Science Foundation states, “To succeed in (this) new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in the STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.” (National Science Foundation)

In acknowledgment, the Obama Administration set a trend of assigning a separate budget for STEM education. As on date, USA has set aside upwards of $2 billion to promote STEM in schools. Japan, UK, Australia, and New Zealand have also allocated a fair share of their education budgets to promote STEM education. Closer home, the government of India as part of the ‘Skill India’ campaign has pumped in a total of 488.2 crore to help more than 2000 schools equip themselves and help students get hands-on experience in futuristic technology with Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL).

Robotics is an interesting method to bring  STEM education into schools and there is bound to be a massive market for providing STEM  and Robotic Kits. STEM is also industry focused and teachers may not be trained to handle these subjects, so outsourcing STEM education is both relevant and convenient. Having people from the industry coming to guide students on STEM-related subjects would prove extremely beneficial to everyone. 

It is so encouraging to see that entrepreneurs and technologists after their long stints incorporate are returning to the field of education with the vision of integrating STEM into the mainstream education system. Mr.Shaji Sebastian, an airplane pilot and an entrepreneur with nearly 30 years of experience, now a  proponent of STEM education in schools through Robotics and other interesting methods says, “STEM gives students the means to push boundaries and think outside the box and not fear failure. And innovation is the byproduct of many failures, of the resilience to get back to creating something despite the many shortcomings. What we believed impossible 10 years ago is the technology we use today, so STEM aims to rewrite what’s possible.”

Silicon Valley giants like Google and Amazon have made a paradigm shift in the way they hire employees. Fancy college education and degrees mean close to nothing. Big forward-thinking corporations want to hire problem-solvers and critical thinkers who would innovate and creatively tackle day-to-day issues.  Most interviews have a set of puzzles and riddles to solve; surely a mere degree from a university might not prepare one for that. 

Robin Williams, if alive now, might modify his last words in ‘Dead Poets Society’, “Medicine, Law, Business, Engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Well, looks like in the coming decades,  STEM would find relevance in poetry, beauty and anything in between!  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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