Updated: Feb 15, 2021
“Early STEM education is also the foundation of bridging the gender and ethnic gaps in the workforce. Integrating STEM in K-12 education levels the playing field, piques children's curiosity towards science, technology and engineering, while inspiring more young women to join STEM."
A talent shortage in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) industries has long plagued economies that are becoming increasingly technology dependent. In the US alone, an estimated 3.5 million STEM positions need to be staffed by 2025. In Singapore, the information communications sector needs another 60,000 professionals over the next three years to keep up with the growing demand of tech industries.
Careers in computing and engineering are in high demand and offer some of the highest paying jobs. The problem of talent shortage stems, pardon the pun, from the fact that improvements need to be made in quality and accessibility of STEM education.
Well then what’s the deal with STEM education, you ask?
STEM education is an integration of the four disciplines in the classroom. When done right, it is a holistic approach that teaches students how to connect the dots between these fields. Inculcating interest in science and technology in our youth - particularly during primary and secondary education (the ‘K-12’ period) - is important in building a future-ready community of young adults. If your Primary 4 child came home saying they learned coding in school or built a wind powered car, this is why.
The technological era that we live in is rapidly growing. As our economic, social and sustainability goals evolve, we need to develop new and efficient systems to support them. This means we need to train our youth in STEM to tackle the demands of this soon-to-come future. This is especially so in a country like Singapore, which relies on sustainability and technological advancement as key features to economic growth.
Zooming in, this period in the COVID-19 pandemic itself has proven the importance of technology in our day-to-day lives. I’ve attended my fair share of online classes and meetings - as I’m sure most of us have - and experienced having to migrate events online. Even businesses are shifting to digital platforms. It is clear that now, being ‘tech-savvy’ is only the tip of the iceberg. Our current climate compels us to pick up new skills that are becoming increasingly relevant: web design, robotics, data analysis - the list goes on! So, how exactly does STEM education build our youth towards the direction of developing these skills and more?
STEM education employs a problem-based learning (PBL) approach which equips students with transferable skills that they can apply to whatever career path they choose to pursue. PBL is a multi-step, interactive style of learning where students discuss ways to tackle real-life problems, applying the skills they’ve learnt in the design and rationale of their solutions.
This inter-disciplinary and hands-on approach promotes critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and creativity. All of which are soft skills that will help children become adaptive individuals in modern society. The technical or hard skills gained, such as coding, software development, and sustainable engineering design, more specifically prepare them for further education and careers in STEM.
Early STEM Education
You know that line parents and grandparents like to say when asked to try something new? “I’m too old for this!” And while we’re quick to retort with the age-old adage ‘it’s never too late’; it is in fact a lot easier to learn something if you grew up with it.
Educating children in STEM at the early stage (particularly in primary school) helps develop their capabilities in these disciplines. Children are naturally curious and are quick to grasp new knowledge when things are all very novel and exciting to them. This in turn will allow them to understand these concepts better as they grow.
Early STEM education is also the foundation of bridging the gender and ethnic gaps in the workforce. Integrating STEM in the K-12 period levels the playing field, piques children's curiosity towards science, technology and engineering, while inspiring more young women to join STEM.
So, if you asked me, we should care about STEM education for this simple reason: STEM is an essential key to building more inclusive societies and driving economies forward by catering to the demand that needs to be met in this technology-driven era.
With a gentle reminder that it’s never too late,
The Lavender Spaceship Project is a STEM learning platform dedicated to primary and middle school girls. They offer unique girl-centric curriculum designed to build future-ready skills and increase the interest of girls in STEM.