It would not be surprising to find that the projected job market by 2020 will primarily focus on knowledge and skill involving science, technology, engineering, or math. As current high school and college students become job candidates, they may be faced with some unsettling statistics:
- In 2012, only 31 percent of high school graduates were academically prepared for college coursework in science.
- Only 46 percent were academically ready for college coursework in mathematics.
- The United States ranks 27th among developed nations in college students earning undergraduate degrees in science or engineering.
Schools have designed curriculum that align to district and state mandates, some of which have remained consistently the same over decades. Does this curriculum allow students to gain the skills necessary to become relevant in the future job market? What can be done to close the preparation gap that currently exists?
Closing the gap through STEM
A cross-disciplinary approach to education is moving through many states and school districts. Simply stated, STEM encompasses any type of coursework that involves science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The difference between teachers who embrace the STEM concept and those who simply teach the subject matter is an emphasis on collaboration and a focus on skill building.
STEM educators provide a link between what they are teaching and how it applies to the real world. This approach can take learning from the knowledge and comprehension levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a way of distinguishing the fundamental questions used within the educational system, into the analysis and synthesis levels.
They can take risks in the classroom by approaching problems not previously encountered. Students are allowed to explore and learn based on their experience. The curriculum is interconnected, so a single concept may follow them from the math classroom into the science classroom.
The opportunity for project-based STEM learning is only limited by the partnership of the school and the community. Career fields such as computer programming, sales, forest services, or engineering can only benefit from developing positive relationships with local schools. Businesses may see the opportunity to speak about employment expectations or sponsor STEM initiatives in the classroom. Involvement with nearby two- and four-year colleges may help students with a smoother transition into higher learning.
What’s stopping schools?
With any significant paradigm shift, there are bound to be obstacles to success. The largest for any school that chooses to implement STEM would be alignment to current curriculum standards. This can become a major roadblock because it involves several levels of approval or decision-making.
The state of Texas has become one of the first to fully recognize and integrate STEM model schools. Through the Texas STEM Coalition, schools are given the resources needed to transition away from traditional school models and encouraged to integrate practices that will prepare their students for college and formal careers.
Funding can also become a deal-breaker for eager learning communities wanting to transition to a STEM philosophy. However, grant opportunities are becoming more prevalent as private businesses see the benefits of schools aligning practices to meet future employment needs. Educators willing to do the research and invest the time may find funding a STEM program easier than expected.
STEM continues to be identified by education leaders as one of the most effective methods for preparing students for success in college and careers. Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times greater than in non-STEM jobs. Education has reached a point where the focus must be placed on preparing students for what lies ahead rather than what has worked in the past. Initiatives such as STEM can close the learning gap and realign curriculum for 21st-century skills.
Dr. Jason Perez is the head principal at Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma, as well as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.Learn More: Click to view related resources.