STEM education, STEM tools, and STEM toys are concepts that circulate throughout the education and parental communities a lot these days. Here is our comprehensive guide on what they all mean, stand for, and why STEM education is essential for children to get acquainted with.
To start off with the easiest part, the definition, here is what STEM actually stands for –– Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These are the core components and disciplines that constitute STEM education and the STEM discipline, whether for children or for adults. But only relatively recently has STEM made a leap from advanced education into primary school classrooms, as educators and scientists alike realized what an asset an early onset STEM education can be for young children.
While children have always studied science and maths (and to some degree, even the core principles of technology and engineering) in school, STEM encompasses all of them under an interdisciplinary umbrella in a way that separate courses don’t. In short, an interdisciplinary approach means more connectedness and relatedness to one another, which works to help the individual understand these disciplines as existing in relation to others, instead of standing alone. Not only is the interdisciplinary approach more reflective of how disciplines interact in real life, but also of how the STEM fields work in real life––and what children can expect of them once they graduate school.
STEM education is so essential for children precisely because STEM touches upon every sphere of our lives. And the more we embed technology into our lives (which we are constantly doing), the more this phenomenon will pertain. Children benefit from a networked system of learning that, for instance, shows them how mathematics isn’t an isolated disciplinary universe, but instead, a tool with which one can approach and solve problems in several different disciplines––and most importantly, in a way that mimics real-life conditions.
The importance of A in STEAM
To further mimic real life and how the different disciplines interact within it, the STEM abbreviation was fairly recently extended to STEAM, now also incorporating Arts. This step was made in order to move the field towards a more human-centered approach, a type of education that centers around creativity and the learning of thought. The Arts aspect, therefore, includes disciplines such as visual art, languages, dance, drama, auditory arts, design, and new media. On par with how technology is becoming more and more influential in all of them, they are now taught alongside it as simply one of the many disciplines.
So, it doesn’t sound all that surprising that primary schools across the world are slowly beginning to introduce children to the STEM discipline in their curricula. They are being encouraged to do so by education scientists, experts from the tech field, as well as governments and ministers of education, who incentivize the transition to a more STEM-focused education in countries like Switzerland, China, Germany, the UK, US, and more. The trend is clear. Now, what are the motivations and the results?
Here are a few reasons why STEM education is one of the best investments for today’s children’s future.
STEM education develops children’s critical thinking skills
Because STEM projects are in their core interdisciplinary, they allow children to look at them from different perspectives. This, in turn, improves their ability to see a problem they are trying to solve from various viewpoints, weighing and evaluating their possible implications as well as all the different approaches and solutions one could apply. Such an approach makes collaboration and the applicability of the learned skills much easier.
Children get to practice their soft skills
While working with STEM projects, children get to practice a whole range of soft skills. Like Robo Wunderkind modular robotic kits, the tools used to teach STEM skills are usually collaborative, adaptable, while the work itself requires a large portion of creativity, listening skills, task management, problem-solving skills, and empathy towards an effective solution and the multiple variations it could take on.
Easier access to college
It’s no secret that students proficient in STEM disciplines are in high demand for both degrees and jobs. There’s currently not enough professionals or students invested in the STEM fields to make up for the ever-increasing demand––whether academically, or professionally. Interestingly, the reasons for admitting more STEM-proficient students are two-fold. Not only are they scarce, but they’re also more ready to enter their designated college STEM studies.
According to a US study, of those prospective students who express an interest or proficiency in STEM fields, 50% are better equipped to deal with their college STEM courses than their average American high school peers. Interest leads to passion and passion for a professional field opens many college doors. And how better to incite interest in STEM than through early-years STEM education? It appears that educational curricula that have incorporated STEM in them early on offer better academic prospects than those who do not.
STEM education prepares children for the future job market
The future job market, whose precise characteristics we can only begin to guess, will be focused more on skills rather than disciplines, and the more interdisciplinary these skills will be, the better. Integrated STEM skills are among the most all-encompassing realistic fields to explore in order to fulfill the needs of the future. These skills will include: tech proficiency (being more than mere tech consumers), coding (or the ability to partake on creating tech solutions), basic knowledge of engineering, deeper scientific knowledge, as well as the ability to tailor all the aforementioned tech solutions to difficult human needs––such as via understanding human psychology, sociology or the functioning of economic markets (probably all three).
With all that in mind, consider that there is a shortage of said professionals on the current STEM scene. The same study mentioned above also estimates that the number of STEM occupations will grow by 8.9% between 2014 and 2024––almost 10% in just ten years. With the current automatization and computation phenomenon of our society, we can only expect this trend to continue. Choosing a STEM field as a prospective career choice will, therefore, give a young graduate many more options. Plus, the fact that STEM fields usually offer stable and above-average pay is another thing to consider. While we don’t encourage choosing your child’s career while they’re still in primary school due to a good salary, what we do encourage is to offer your children more options via STEM education.
Better perspective on the importance of STEM
It might be difficult for your children to understand just how they can use the things they learn at school in real life. Every math teacher always told us we’d need complex algebra and calculus all the time once we grow up––and we doubt most of us do. STEM is so much more than dry theory, its very purpose is to reflect on the real world, its professional disciplines, and how they relate to one another. When receiving good and continuous STEM education, no child will find it difficult to imagine what it’s actually for.
Integrated STEM education in most primary schools would be new for the vast majority of students. In such, it would leave little time for prejudice and stereotypes about the different abilities of the genders of ethnic groups to set in. Getting acquainted with STEM early on (ideally still in primary school) would mean acting sooner than the learned stereotypes and prejudices do, thus increasing the chances that the groups typically discouraged from joining the fields (women, ethnic minorities) develop a talent or passion big enough to silence out the voices of those who have the facts working against them.
And the facts are simple. Increasing the presence of women (and ethnic minorities) in STEM fields would help increase their statistically lower incomes, thereby combatting structural inequality. And when would be a better moment to start than in classrooms, when the widespread prejudices haven’t had a chance to make their claim?
There are numerous ways to start a child’s journey in STEM. One of such ways is to introduce an educational STEM approach in the curriculum, or to get a STEM tool like Robo Wunderkind for home. Either way, the most essential component of any STEM tool or educational technique needs to be fun. Passion is, after all, the one element that propels the creative genius ahead!