The Future of the World is STEM

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The world has been changing rapidly in the last century. Much of what we do or how we communicate, for instance, no longer happens in the physical world but rather exists in a digital parallel universe. Processes are becoming automated and more efficient, while the world becomes increasingly globalised. All these changes have been brought around by advances in STEM fields. The last decade has seen many discussions on STEM education, but what exactly is it and why is it important?

What is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM is not limited to laboratories and coding, it underpins entire industries such as food manufacturing, healthcare, construction, telecommunications, and so on. Engineering, for example, is much more than designing and building roads and bridges. It can range from determining what lies beneath the ground prior to construction using underground utility locating equipment, to producing specialized equipment to create special effects for films, to combating climate change.

It is no surprise then that STEM is being increasingly discussed in education. Educating students in these fields helps them understand an increasingly scientific and technological world around them, and prepares them for the future workforce.

Increasing Scientific and Technological Literacy

STEM education is important in today’s society because it is omnipresent. Science and technology have expanded into every aspect of our lives. Media consumption, for example, is no longer limited to cable television or reading paperbacks. You can access films and television series via streaming platforms, and read ebooks on your electronic devices. It has even expanded into entire industries, such as social media, digital marketing, and e-commerce.

We exist in an era of constant scientific and technological change, which has a direct impact on the way we live. Scientific and technological issues have been increasingly dominating both national and international discourse. Issues such as surveillance, data privacy, cloning, and climate change are contemporary concerns that have sparked intense debate amongst lawmakers as well as citizens. New advances in fields such as communications, medicine, and energy directly affect our lives. We would need to be literate in science and technology to be able to form informed opinions and participate in constructive debates surrounding contemporary issues in our roles as citizens, consumers, and workers. Without a proper grasp of how science and technology advances, we would gradually become isolated from modern society.

The Future of the Workforce

As the world becomes increasingly automated and globalised, more STEM workers are needed to help our country remain competitive and drive innovation by generating new ideas and companies. The workforce is already showing signs that STEM workers are becoming more valued. According to the US Department of Commerce, employment in STEM fields grew at a much faster rate than employment in non-STEM fields. Opportunities in STEM careers are projected to continue increasing at a faster pace as compared to non-STEM occupations. People who work in STEM fields command a higher salary than those who work in non-STEM fields, and the difference has been widening as the years go by.

STEM knowledge can be transferred to a range of careers that are not limited to STEM fields. STEM education encourages critical thinking, analytical, problem-solving, and technical skills and the ability to customize solutions to fit specific contexts. People who hold a STEM degree are thus widely coveted, and they do not necessarily have to work in a STEM occupation to enjoy higher earnings. Those who possess a STEM degree tend to receive a higher salary over non-STEM degree holders.

Encouraging STEM Education

The future of the world is in STEM, and there is a pressing need to encourage STEM education and spark interest in related careers. It is also necessary to address the disparities in STEM fields by increasing gender and minority diversity in STEM education and employment. Men, for example, still vastly dominate STEM fields, with only 28% of the STEM workforce being occupied by women. Black and Hispanic workers are also underrepresented in the STEM workforce. More initiatives should be set up to encourage females and minorities to successfully pursue an education in STEM, and help them translate it into a career in related fields. Doing so would have the added benefit of reducing economic disparities between groups and growing a workforce in STEM through gender and racial inclusion.

The future of the world is STEM. Grasping scientific and technological concepts is no longer limited to scientists and inventors. Literacy in these fields is crucial to understanding an increasingly complex world around us that is defined by advances in science and technology. Education in STEM fields should also be encouraged as the future of the workforce will be dominated by jobs that require STEM knowledge. More attention should also be paid to STEM education for females and minorities who remain underrepresented in the workforce related to these fields.

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Christmas: Everyone’s Favorite Holiday

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Christmas is one of the most beloved festivals around the world. The jolly mood and the tradition of giving gifts to our loved ones are things that make Christmas an enjoyable festival. While Christmas has become a regular year-end celebration for many, it also is a religious holiday that holds a significant meaning for those who celebrate it.

The Season of Giving

While there are many things that make up the Christmas holiday, the essential Christmas activity is exchanging presents. Giving gifts during Christmas is symbolic of the Three Wise Men giving tributes to Jesus after his birth.

When we think of presents, we cannot leave out the legendary Christmas figure, Santa Clause. Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, is the icon of Christmas. Santa Claus is based on the European Saint Nicholas, who was famous for surprising children with gifts. The Santa Claus we see today was first illustrated in 1862 by Thomas Nast for political magazine Harper’s Weekly. He is now always depicted as wearing a red suit and soft hat, with a thick white beard and a round stomach.

Saint Nicholas was believed to distribute gifts to children on Christmas Eve. As such, the story of Santa Claus is that on Christmas Eve, he rides on his sleigh and delivers gifts to good children while leaving coal for naughty children. This is often told to children by their parents to make them anticipate the arrival of their gifts on Christmas day. As such, every year, on Christmas Eve, children anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus and may even leave out milk and cookies or a letter for him. Leaving them a santa letter from the North Pole among their gifts is bound to let them have a delightful and unforgettable Christmas.

While Christmas might be celebrated in different ways around the world, Santa Claus is a part of Christmas that cannot be left out.

The Joy of Christmas

The first recorded celebration of Christmas occurred in Rome, AD 336. This means that Christmas has been around for an extremely long time. In modern times, many Christmas traditions have been created, making the holiday even more exciting and magical.

As with other festivals, food is an important aspect of Christmas. One thing that many look forward to is a traditional Christmas dinner. A traditional Christmas dinner often consists of a stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, glazed ham, and vegetables. There are also Christmas desserts such as Christmas pudding, gingerbread houses, or a Yule log cake. A grand Christmas feast is something that family and friends can look forward to.

Interestingly, as the Christmas holiday is celebrated globally, unique variations of Christmas dinner have emerged. In Japan, KFC fried chicken is a popular choice for Christmas. In fact, this has become such a popular tradition that the fast-food restaurant receives Christmas orders two months in advance. This tradition began in the 1970s when KFC sold “Christmas party” barrels, which became popular and formed part of an annual Christmas tradition for many.

Another Christmas tradition is to erect a fir tree in one’s home as a Christmas tree. It is estimated that each year, 30 to 35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States alone. This was a tradition that began in Germany when Christians placed decorated trees in their home to celebrate winter. For Christians, the tree is meant to symbolize Jesus and the light he brings into the world. They are often decorated with ornaments, candy or gingerbread. Today, decorating, and erecting Christmas trees is a tradition enjoyed even by non-Christians. Christmas trees can also often be seen in commercial areas where shopping malls put up large Christmas trees to create a festive mood for shoppers.

There are variations to the Christmas tree tradition as well. In some parts of India, a mango tree or bamboo tree is erected instead of the usual fir tree. There are even different ways of decorating the tree. In Germany, real or electric candles are used to decorate trees. In Australia, seashells are popular tree decorations as it is summer during the Christmas season.

The Origins of Christmas

Christmas is celebrated annually towards the end of the year, on the 25th of December. It is a day celebrated by Christians to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. There is another belief that 25th of December was chosen for Christmas as it was a popular holiday in the Roman Empire when they celebrated the winter solstice symbolizing the resurgence of the sun. Even prior to the arrival of Jesus, many celebrated the winter solstice as the worst part of winter had passed and they could look forward to longer days of sunlight. Either way, both show that Christmas is meant to be a day of celebration.

On Christmas Eve or Christmas day, it is important for Christians to attend a church service. Apart from Easter, Christmas season is the period where churches experience the highest attendance. Churches and homes are often decorated in red, green, and gold during the Christmas season. These are the traditional colors of Christmas. Red symbolizes the blood Jesus shed during his crucifixion, green symbolizes eternal life and gold symbolizes royalty.

Whether for religious or festive purposes, Christmas is a celebration that is enjoyed by many for good reasons. Hopefully, even with the ongoing pandemic, the Christmas season can continue to bring joy and warmth as we reach the end of the year.

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Lessons from animals: How your dog enhances your thinking skills

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We tend to think of education in terms of going to school or completing a skills training course, but the truth is humans are stimulated by and learn from their surrounding environments everyday. Take riding the subway, for example. It involves choosing which train service to take, determining which station to stop and changing trains if necessary, calculating how long it would take to arrange at your destination, and navigating through subway stations. You are processing a tremendous amount of information and learning how to make decisions based on your environment! 

We are also surrounded by informal “teachers” in our day-to-day lives. Do you know that dogs, for instance, can enhance our thinking skills?

Encouraging STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) thinking

Perhaps this may come as a surprise. Unless you work in a biological- or veterinary-related field, how do dogs promote STEM thinking? STEM learning typically involves making observations, analyzing the available data, formulating hypotheses, and experimenting with solutions to determine the best one. 

STEM thinking is, in fact, utilized regularly in pet care. When your dog starts to display erratic behaviors, you may have an inkling that something is wrong. For example, you discovered that your dog is constantly rubbing his face against the wall. Has your dog created a new, albeit rather odd, game? Maybe your dog is trying to sniff the wall? Perhaps your dog is scratching its face? These are all examples of formulating a hypothesis for your observations. You may later realize that this face-rubbing behavior only occurs at a certain time of the day, specifically after meal times. You remember that you had recently changed its diet from cooked chicken to beef. This could lead you to infer that your dog is allergic to beef, and the solution is to change its diet to something else and to observe whether the face-rubbing continues. This entire process is similar to the scientific process employed in STEM. 

If you have different species of pets, you also learn that you cannot care for your pets in the same way your “solutions” will not be the same! Imagine that you have a pet fish, your dog’s best friend. Cleaning up after your dog and your fish will require different solutions. Your pet fish would, for example, require a monthly cleaning of the filter in its aquarium and a change of water that is suitable for it. On the other hand, you probably would want to lay out a pee pad at home or take your dog out on walks for it to do its business outside. If your dog is not toilet trained and you forgot to take it out on a walk, it may make a puddle on the floor. In this case, you might require a pet spray/cleaner to take care of the mess. Pet care may seem intuitive to seasoned pet owners, but it takes a considerable amount of “experimenting” to get it right! 

Enhancing thinking skills through stress management 

Stress is a part of everyday life. A stressful morning commute, reading the news, a long line at the cashier all these small daily stresses can accumulate over time, and too much stress can have a huge negative impact on our physical, mental and emotional health. The effects of stress are not only damaging on a personal level, but comes at a great cost on a societal level. Job-related stress is estimated to cost American companies $300 billion due to healthcare costs, high turnover rates, and absenteeism.  

Dogs are known as man’s best friend because of the love, friendship and companionship they provide. It is well known that our stress levels decrease and we feel happier when we interact with dogs (unless you are afraid of them!). Recent research also suggests that petting dogs increases relaxation and our ability to cope with stress instead of feeling overwhelmed. This in turn enhances our ability to think, and even improves levels of concentration, planning, organizing, and memorising skills. As compared to traditional workshops on stress and anxiety management, petting therapy dogs were found to be longer lasting and more effective at enhancing thinking skills! Simple daily interactions with your dog like petting have calming effects and can be helpful for managing stress and learning. 

Apart from enhancing your thinking skills, interacting with animals has other socio-emotional benefits and teaches us important life skills, such as empathy, compassion, and responsibility. Education is not limited to the classroom. Interacting with people, animals, and your environment is a part of everyday life and might seem intuitive most of the time, yet these experiences involve a lot more learning than you think! Whenever your mind is feeling stuck at work or at school, cuddle your pet or go for a walk to get your brain juices flowing. 

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