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.