Dismal statistics of reflecting U.S. students’ poor performance in STEM subjects have been making headlines for years. Recently, the federal government released a five-year strategic plan for STEM education to make the US “the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.” Educators, employers, and communities will have to work together to equip the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and tech experts to meet the demands of STEM industries.
To learn more, check out the infographic below created by American University’s School of Education program.
STEM Education Statistics
American jobs in STEM are projected to grow by 8.9 percent between 2014 and 2024. Unfortunately, not enough students are prepared to join the STEM workforce.
In 2017, 48 percent of high school students that took the ACT exam showed an interest in STEM. This group’s readiness levels were roughly 11 to 14 percentage points higher than ACT test-takers that weren’t interested in STEM. However, just .43 percent of students interested in STEM plan on pursuing a college education or a career in the math field, and only .17 percent plan on pursuing a college education or a science career. Combined, these percentages represent just 5,839 of the 970,532 students interested in STEM. Furthermore, just 21% of those interested met the ACT STEM benchmark of 26.
Things don’t look promising beyond the ACT. Only 24 percent of boys aged 13 to 17 would like to pursue a STEM career, and only 11 percent of girls in the same age demographic showed an interest.
Political Measures Promoting STEM
Released in 2018, the federal government’s five-year strategic plan for STEM education states, “All Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.”
According to whitehouse.gov, this five-year plan outlines a trio of goals: “Build strong foundations for STEM literacy, increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM, and prepare the STEM workforce for the future.”
The government created four pathways to reach these goals. The first path was to develop and strengthen strategic partnerships among educational institutions, communities, and employers. The second road was to engage students in transdisciplinary activities to make learning STEM more inspiring for students. They also created a channel to advance computational literacy via digital platforms as teaching and learning tools. Finally, they forged a path marked by their own commitment to accountability and transparency in all its STEM-related activities.
The plan’s report cites recent supportive measures undertaken by the Trump administration. These include the enhancement of job-training programs, the establishment of an initiative to support historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the signing of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, and the establishment of the National Council for the American Worker.
The federal government has taken concrete steps to support and promote STEM education in K-12 schools. It’s now up to the teachers, school officials, and employers to bring these changes to students.
There have been some positive advancements in this regard. For instance, a pilot project by the University of Chicago is helping teachers support students in learning critical thinking. Because of fourth-graders’ low scores on standardized science exams, preschool teachers are learning how to “facilitate the process of inquiry rather than teaching them the scientific principles behind the projects,” per a Forbes article. Ultimately, the project aims to increase teachers’ confidence in engaging in discussion of STEM subjects.
That said, there are several subjects that aren’t being taught. For instance, students in K-12 don’t have the opportunity to learn about blockchain technology, even though it’s taken the world by storm and MIT was quick to introduce a related degree program. Very few high schools teach computer science, even though basic computer classes have been offered for decades in K-12 schools. Finally, not enough schools are incorporating robotics as part of required STEM curricula, despite the subject’s popularity in afterschool programs, resource centers, and school clubs.
How Teaching STEM Must Adapt
There are several strategies that can be deployed to allow STEM to reach out to students. Firstly, STEM’s classroom lessons should connect to real-life opportunities, which can erase the perception of STEM being nerdy or dull. Schools should also partner with industry pros and organizations to offer “insider” looks into an industry’s STEM-driven future. Additionally, teachers can ask students for ideas to develop enjoyable curricula. Another strategy could be to appoint student ambassadors to spread the excitement about STEM to their classmates and friends. Finally, educators should blend STEM in with various non-STEM subjects, such as music and art.
Historically, the responsibility to educate the next generation has chiefly been the teacher’s responsibility. But today, as a result of the pressures and demands of a fast-paced society, governments and employers are intervening and playing an active role in developing legislature, assisting teachers, and inspiring students to pursue careers in STEM. The challenge will be for each government official, educator, and industry professional to be fully invested in the education – and success – of young, developing minds.