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The Civic Benefit of STEM Education (12/13/14)

STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) education has been one of the focal points of school improvement efforts in the United States during the past 5 years. In response to the dearth of graduates in the STEM fields from colleges and universities throughout the United States, the federal government working through the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) has established a national strategy along with programming, resources, and support to promote STEM education in our nation’s PK – 12 schools. One of the major goals of this effort has been to develop student interest in the STEM fields to increase the number of students who select STEM fields as their majors in college and ultimately graduate with degrees in those fields.

Without question, STEM education is one of the most critical issues facing our nation and the world as we move into the 21st Century. Problems of famine, epidemic disease, declining natural resources, infrastructure, and even more advanced space exploration must be met by a capable STEM workforce. To create the interest in STEM that will be needed to encourage more students to enter its related fields, PK – 12 schools must provide rich, authentic experiences that indoctrinate students in basic knowledge and principles while requiring them to study even further to satiate their thirst for inquiry.

While the main goals of STEM education in the United States are very clear, we also have to ask ourselves “By implementing a major emphasis in PK – 12 education in the United States, how will we impact the types of students that we are producing?” A recent article in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Educational Leadership titled Show & Tell: A Video Column/STEM for Citizenship provides one answer to the previous question. The article’s authors, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey submit that STEM education is beneficial because it will also produce better, more informed, citizens. Based on my many years of experience working in public schools, I must agree, Fisher & Frey (2014) are right! STEM education, well done, immerses students in two critical intellectual pursuits, critical thinking and applying concepts in real world contexts. These are the skills that employers covet.

No matter the profession, you have to have employees who can reason clearly using facts and then apply their reasoning to familiar and novel circumstances to reach viable resolutions. Beyond the workforce though, as Fisher & Frey alluded to, you have to citizens who are clear purposeful thinkers as well. These citizens, even if they are not expert in STEM fields, possess the ability to evaluate arguments on their merits and press their representatives in government to do what’s best. In this scenario, we have the opportunity to create a better society for all. This is the true value of STEM education, creating more informed, clear thinking citizens who will elevate our society as a whole.

To close, STEM education is one of the most important initiatives of our time. The number and quality of STEM graduates that our country produces will directly impact our ability to remain competitive on a global scale. In addition, STEM education has implications for our nation’s entire citizenry. The intellectual skills of critical thinking and applying concepts in real world contexts transcend all boundaries and directly impact one’s ability to exercise citizenship rights. It is the development of this ability, the ability to do what is best, in a broader than self-perspective, that has to potential to elevate our society. That is the hidden but exciting value in STEM education!

Shawn McCollough
President & CEO

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