by Leslie De Leonardis (@MsDeLSTEM)
It has been a few months since my last blog post attempting to define STEM education. A large part of the reason for my hiatus is, of course, work. I find myself so deep into STEM research (for work) that I forget to come up for air. It’s a good problem to have, trust me! As already mentioned (see blog #1), in my new position I have decided to organize my research into two buckets of thoughts: #1 What actually is STEM education/learning? And #2, Is there a need for STEM learning? My first blog post discussed bucket #1. This blog addresses bucket #2, all about one of my other favorite things - NUMBERS! That is, numbers in the form of statistics related to STEM learning and STEM careers. A disclaimer before I begin: all statistics referred to in this post can be found on my STEMtistics page accompanied by their original source.
Let’s get to it! It seems like everyone loves talking about STEM learning and how it is the future of education - including me! Yet, many conversations stray away from the startling statistics related to STEM. Do we really need STEM learning in our schools? The short answer is a resounding YES! There are a lot of ‘whys’ pointing to not just a need for STEM learning, but truly a demand for it. According to a January 2017 online report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, occupations in fields related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) are growing at a faster rate than non-STEM occupations - STEM occupations grew by 10.5 percent, between May 2009 and May 2015, compared with 5.2 percent growth in non-STEM occupations (Fayer et al, 2017). This growth took place in just six years, even before the boom of the technological advances we have seen in the recent 5 years. Not to mention, as educators we have all heard the saying that we are preparing students for jobs not yet created, which the above-stated statistics are clear indicators of such a reality coming.
This growth alone displays the high demand of future STEM-related careers, yet a demand that is barely being met by our higher education system. According to the National Math & Science Initiative, only 36% of all high school graduates are ready to take a college-level science course. Moreover, this demand is rarely met by our elementary educational system. The four STEM areas are currently receiving immense global attention and focus that is simply increasing not only in the current workforce, but also in creating careers still not known. The education world has yet to truly meet these demands. Many of our Catholic school students are in our elementary school system for close to 9 years when they enter in kindergarten (and now even 10 years if they enter in transitional kindergarten). Students lack equitable access to innovative and immersive programs that push the limits of education in STEM. Elementary schools are the prime years of formation, however not all our students learn in a daily environment that integrates the 4 STEM competencies to better prepare our future engineers, computer technicians, architects, etc. “Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in early childhood education is an area currently given little attention ... which is unfortunate since young children are natural scientists and engineers” (Tippett & Milford, 2017).
These statistics do not even touch upon groups in our society that are underrepresented in STEM majors and careers such as women, Hispanics/Latinos and African-Americans. 74% of middle school girls express an interest in engineering, science, and math, but only 0.3% choose computer science as a major when they get to college (girlswhocode.org). African-American and Latino workers represent 29% of the general workforce population, but only 15% of the computing workforce and 12% of the engineering workforce (US News, 2015). The lack of representation from these groups, coupled with the exponential growth of future STEM jobs creates a pretty clear picture. It is clear that there is a need to concentrate on creating an innovative learning focused on daily, integrated STEM learning, particularly in Catholic Elementary education.
One of the best ways to sum up the need for STEM learning is with my favorite quote from Marian Wright Edelman, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” If our students - of all races, all genders and all socioeconomic levels - do not see or engage in the viability of STEM in their classrooms (daily), then how do we expect them to go into this perpetually changing world equipped and empowered to be innovative and compassionate agents of change? It may seem overwhelming to think about tackling these statistics. However just because we can’t do it all, doesn’t mean we can’t do something! The approach of our ADLA STEM Network hopes to address these achievement and opportunity gaps in a more systematic way for our school communities.