Importance of STEM education
Education is a topic that has been used by politicians and business leaders as one of the key issues we face today. Lack of skilled labor is one common issue most US manufacturers have reported recently. To better understand why STEM is important one must look at the global mega trends to appreciate the transformation economies are going through. Digital Transformation, IoT and Industry 4.0 are some of the mega trends that are and will be driving the need for skills today and in the future. These mega trends are also transforming the skills companies’ desire, click here to learn more about the most desired skills. Posts by Ketan Deshpande, Minnesota, MN
Growing STEM Gap
Depending on which reports you review US ranks either in the middle of the pack or lower when it comes to STEM education/graduation rate is concerned. This is what is giving rise to the skills gap most manufacturers are referring to. No doubt US produced the most doctoral graduates, however, experts point to students coming to the US for education and lower percentage rate of graduation as two major concerns. All images courtesy of WEF & OECD, PISA
My perception of the STEM gap
This discussion is always controversial however I will give you my perspective. I was born and brought up in India where education like in many developing countries is pursued by parents and government alike. Completed my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and then moved to the state of Minnesota as a result of a career move. Connect with me on Google+, Facebook, Quora, LinkedIn and Twitter. Posts by Ketan Deshpande, Minnesota
The following are my view points on why STEM education in is challenged and a few recommendations all parents should consider including us as we have a student as well. By Ketan Deshpande, Minnesota, MN
STEM culture – We need one
Over the years the American society has migrated more towards a society that rewards people either financially or emotionally more in the following fields: entertainment, sports, and finance. People want to be in these fields because either they will make a lot of money, or get a lot of attention/be idolized or both. Engineers and scientists don’t starve, but they aren’t going to get Bill Gates rich (and remember, Gates wasn’t an engineer, he dropped out of Harvard). So, rather than go to, say, engineering school, your average high schooler will try to get on American Idol by singing into a hairbrush for hours on end, or they will practice dribbling and three point shots for hours on end for that one in a million shot at being a star and making tons of money and get tons of adulation/attention. But spend that same amount of time studying math? Not bloody likely. The socially awkward kid that likes the books while other kids are playing video games is the stereotype of your future engineer or scientist, and no kid with an ounce of pride wants to go through school with that image (even kids that are interested in science and math don’t want to be seen that way). Kids learn at an early age what society values, and it AIN’T engineers or scientists. The little nerd kids that get straight A’s on math and science tests get no love in school from their peers, but nobody teases the star kickball player or a budding LeBron James. By Ketan Deshpande, Minnesota, MN
STEM successes are invisible
Most people don’t have a clue what the average scientist and engineer even does for a living, or simply don’t really understand it when we explain it to them. Look at any media outlet and you will find a wide variety of lifestyles being glorified however it is touch to find anything about Scientists and Engineers. This is especially true for women and minorities, who have very few people who look like them doing this work. I tell people what I do, and I get blank stares. “I’m an engineer” simply isn’t as definitive an answer as “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a lawyer” is, I always have to follow it up with a brief overview of what I actually do. There aren’t that many TV shows that portray engineers/scientists out there really compared to the amount of say, cop shows. I will admit, however, it’s better than it was when I was a kid-we now have the CSI shows, NCIS with the lab tech, Bones, and even Big Bang Theory. But while these shows have helped show how science is relevant in our world and have helped to humanize scientists and engineers, what scientists and engineers do is still overall a mystery for many people. By Ketan Deshpande
Parent’s and Societies role in STEM
Because society doesn’t value STEM careers, many parents simply don’t know what engineers do, or what it takes to be an engineer. So, they don’t really advise their children to consider the field. And parents are the single biggest influence in their child’s life.
- Schools don’t have adequate instructors at the K-12 level in math and the sciences: As a result, a lot of kids, especially kids who are in the inner city where the quality of teaching is not very good overall, don’t get the basic instruction they need to excel in math and science at the highest levels. Math isn’t like history. The basics are the foundation for the higher level math and science concepts, so if you don’t get the stuff in the beginning, you’re just going to have a hard time with math. A lot of confusion students have in comprehending math and science concepts can be directly traced back to the fact that many teachers in grades K-12 never majored in math or science in college, and therefore don’t understand math or science themselves. So how can you teach someone when YOU don’t understand it yourself? By Ketan Deshpande, Minnesota, MN
- Math and science isn’t really seen as a skill that everyone can and should learn: Again, parents assume that if their kid is bad at math or science, it’s because he or she doesn’t have the aptitude, rather than pushing the kid to understand it. This is especially true if the parents didn’t excel at it. The image is that there are only a very few people who can understand math and science, and if your kid is stumbling over math, well that’s a sure sign he or she isn’t one of those “special” people. And as a result, there is no real push to turn someone who doesn’t understand math into someone who is proficient at it. The higher levels of math are then closed off to the kid before he even hits junior year in high school.
- No role models: Name a famous physicist or engineer (other than Einstein, people). Now, name a famous singer or athlete. Which did you come up with the fastest? That says it all. And for women and minorities, it’s even worse. Many young women and minorities in school don’t have people that look like them steering them toward these fields or providing an example and that is important.
- STEM majors in college are HARD: Even though you might want to be an engineer or scientist, you still have to get through the school. And it’s very hard. Even for those who are good at math and science. The rate of dropout is about 30% or higher. The first thing engineering and science majors hear in class is, “Look to the person on your left. Now look to the person on your right. One of you won’t be here at the end of your four years here”. Not joking either. And for minorities who are typically not as prepared as other students, that trek through school is even more daunting. Science and engineering majors are the ones that study ALL the time, who have no time to really do anything else, and that’s not appealing to your average 17 or 18 year old. Talk to an engineer. Unless he or she was a genius, odds are good they have horror stories about classes they failed or low grades on exams they studied a week for. Most college majors don’t want to go through such a grueling program for four or more years, even if it does mean a job at the end of the rainbow.
Do I think the school should be easier? After 17+ years in the manufacturing industry that designed and produced critical to function solutions for the Medical, Automotive and other industrial applications, I say categorically: NO.
More often than not, STEM professionals are working on designing and developing technologies and solutions that have profound implications on the human race. I know such statements could be ridiculed however lets look at some simple examples like space exploration, automotive industry, healthcare industry, and many others would not be yielding the benefits we take for granted if it wasn’t for the STEM professionals. The STEM professionals are involved in and are responsible for moving advancement of the human race. By Ketan Deshpande, Minnesota, MN
Globally companies are making investments to improve STEM awareness, recent example includes OE’s and Tier 1 suppliers launching STEM and skill development initiatives to develop the workforce of the future.
The world needs STEM professionals more than ever, spread the word and support the cause. They have been, are and will always be the unsung hero’s of what we have today and will be enjoying to tomorrow.
The author, KetanDeshpande, lives in Minnesota and writes about a variety of topics in his blog such as global economy, market and industry trends, successful strategies for businesses, and others. Leveraging his global strategic leadership experience from the manufacturing industry to offer insights in to how businesses can meet the sustainable growth and profitability goals.
Ketan Deshpande is also passionate about sustainability and renewable energy; he curates and shares latest updates in his blog posts. Recently the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency(SMMPA) of Litchfield, Minnesota, endorsed Ketan Deshpande for an energy conservation project.
This blog also features memorable events, travel experiences and his favorite places to visit in the great state of Minnesota.