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The Importance of STEM & STEAM In Education

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First let’s start with the definitions of STEM & STEAM.

It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. STEM is important because our world depends on it, it pervades every part of our lives, from the phones we talk on to the cars we drive and the doctors we visit. STEM education integrates concepts that are usually taught as separate subjects, it emphasises the application of knowledge to real-life situations. It seeks to raise students awareness of how STEM fields affect their daily lives and seeks to excite and engage them in possible future careers in STEM related fields. Whereas in STEAM the ‘A’ refers to arts, as an equally important part of the STEM concept. The argument for this is that the arts form a vital and important component of innovation.

The Importance of STEM

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According to research carried out by the U.S Department of Education in 2014, only 16% of high school seniors are proficient in maths and wish to pursue a STEM degree, despite the knowledge that many new and highly paid jobs available in the future are in STEM related fields. At the moment there is a severe under representation of both women and minorities in STEM fields with over 2.4 million STEM jobs projected to go unfulfilled this year alone.

Careers in STEM related fields are vast and diverse and encouraging this area of regard is essential for the survival of our global economy which will rely on people capable of fulfilling these career pathways.

According to UNESCO, the European Parliament forecasted around 7 million new STEM jobs by 2025 in Europe alone. The challenge that evolving education faces is how to capture students interest in STEM related subjects. 

A lesson or unit in a STEM class is typically based around finding solutions to real life problems where importance is focused on project based learning. A good STEM lesson ensures the students understand and make connections to world issues and learn to collaborate using critical thinking and brain storming ‘out of the box’ ideas to draw conclusions and make connections. As explained by Caroline Ratcliffe, Head of School at St. Andrews International school Dusit, “Students get to see their efforts come to life though meaningful, motivating project based learning. Encouraging this enquiry based approach gives students all the necessary tools to embrace the rapidly changing world around them.”

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, had this to say during one of her podcasts discussing the value of STEM;

“One of the things that my experience has taught me is that if you are trained as a scientist in your youth – through your high school and college – if you stay with the STEM disciplines, you can learn pretty much all of the subjects as you move along in life. And your scientific disciplines play a very important role, and ground you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is. 

It’s very hard to learn science later on in life. One of the pleas I would have for most young people today is, stay with STEM as long as you can.”

The New Buzz Word STEAM

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As we move further into the new advances in education STEM isn’t the new buzz word and STEAM is the word that everyone is now talking about.

STEAM is another acronym commonly encountered alongside STEM, where the ‘A’ in STEAM refers to arts, as an equally important part of the STEM concept. The argument for this is that the arts, including liberal arts, fine arts, music and design, are all critical skills and their individual creative thinking processes should be incorporated, where appropriate, to enhance student learning in STEM.

The STEM VS STEAM movement has started taking root for the past several years and is now surging forward in education as a positive mode to meet the needs of the 21st century. While continued research has been done on the importance of STEM, it can miss several important components that employers have voiced as critical for our children to thrive in a rapidly approaching future. 

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Without doubt STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy and enables the next generation of innovators. However, educators now realise the importance of not only the innovation for new products and engineering for new roads but the design of new bridges and the frameworks for science to tackle global changing weather patterns.  This is the very reason why STEM and STEAM play such an important and integral part of progressive education. STEAM is a way to take the benefits of STEM and now complete the package by integrating these principals in and through the arts. By including STEAM into new curriculum it allows students to connect their learning in critical areas together with artistic elements and design principals.

In the time of Leonardo Da Vinci art and science had not yet matured to the state in which they exist today, they coexisted naturally. Moving forward in education it’s inspiring to see that current practices in scientific research have much to gain by involving artists in the process early and often. Artists serve as great partners in the communication of scientific research and when we can encourage our students to embrace the importance of both, we can expect them to navigate us further into the unknown.


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