Dr Tony Richardson (PhD) is a freelance educational specialist with over 35 years of teaching and research experience. Over the past 10 years Tony has been an education consultant for various government and non-government bodies, within Southeast Asia, focusing on education; primary, secondary; tertiary and VET. He is currently the Project Director for the Integration of Financial Literacy into Cambodian government schools. Tony has co-authored a number of peer-reviewed journal articles on topics relating to teachers, learners and pedagogy across several international landscapes, and also co-authored a book on preservice teacher education. He has previously presented, and continues to present, at international conferences on education topics throughout Southeast Asia.
STEM education relates to a teaching approach used in schools today that fosters an interest in science, technology, engineering and math. This interest in science, technology, engineering and maths is developed through a pedagogical approach that seeks to integrate these subjects.
STEM consists of three elements: Career, Technology and Life Skills; Problem-Based Learning; and Personalization of Learning. And thorough these three elements STEM encourages a number of key skills, both soft and hard. For example, team work, problem solving and builds resilience. However, like all elements of education STEM also has some draw backs, for example, cost, comes at the expense of other subjects, lack of resources and teacher expertise.
While there will always be positive and negative views about topics or subjects in life so too are there positive and negative views about STEM. However, the views held by most educational experts, worldwide, is that STEM does play, and no doubt will play, an important role in the future education of students and therefore, a county’s economic growth and social development and mobility.
Decades of research has highlighted the cogent link between the quality of a country’s education, reflected in the quality of their teachers and students, and the benefits derived economically, socially, and through improved health conditions for citizens.
Consequently, if STEM is going to play a significant role in, for example, the future economic development of a country, then logically there needs to be an emphasis on fostering an interest in STEM for both male and female students; given that females represent possibly more than just over half the world’s population, in Higher Education.
The question that this paper addresses is not about getting more females involved in STEM rather how could Higher Institutions, for example, Vocational Education Colleges and Universities, facilitate learning environments that will foster and encourage a stronger interest in STEM for students.
This paper acknowledges that strategies to encourage female students to select STEM subjects is a much more complex challenge.
To address the question proposed above this paper suggests that there needs to be collaboration between Federal governments, business leaders and Higher Education Institutions to create a nexus to hopefully establish, and then build on, the learning environments outlined above. However, one of the big stumbling blocks will be funding, and, therefore, it is important that to initiate learning environments that will encourage and foster a strong interest in STEM Federal governments need to first, and foremost, present a long-term clear vision for the future. This vision needs to reflect where the Federal government sees STEM positioned, within business and Higher Education, to facilitate long-term economic growth and social development and mobility.
The role of Federal governments, within this nexus, focuses on providing the initial capital for Higher Education Institutions and business leaders by providing sufficient long-term funding to explore and unpack the potential for future job creation through STEM. However, this future job creation needs to be initiated by a very strong and focused vision, which has the capacity to unite, inspire and build public awareness as to the benefits of STEM for future long-term growth and economic prosperity.
The vision that this paper refers to is similar to that of John Kennedy’s challenge, in the early 1960s, to the American people to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy’s vision was based on a desire to push Americans out of their comfort zone and encourage them to meet the challenge of putting a man on the moon by first, positioning and then second, organizing Higher Education Institutions and businesses to apply their best and brightest minds to the tasks at hand. As reflected in Kennedy’s comment below;
We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills . . .
The task of organizing and preparing, for example, in the 1960s, the future engineers, astronauts and systems and data analysts, would not have been, this paper asserts, facilitated by simply encouraging the use of science, technology, engineering and math in schools. A far greater, and more organized approach to attaining Kennedy’s goal, would have been undertaken through Higher Education Institutions and business leaders collaborating, and working on joint projects, to address the challenges imitated by the Federal government, via the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA).
The teaching of STEM is not just about encouraging students to study science, technology, engineering and math at school so that they can articulate into Higher Education to study a degree program in the STEM field. Simply, making STEM subjects at school interesting does not create opportunities for students in the future. And Higher Education Institutions certainly do not provide courses to students solely because the students found science or technology interesting or exciting at school.
This paper suggests that if one wants students to study STEM then give them tangible long-term opportunities to dream ‘Big’.
As Kennedy brilliantly provided the American people with the opportunity to dream ‘Big’, and make that dream a reality. So that a young girl or boy could dream, for example, of being an astronaut, an engineer or a data analyst and know with some degree of certainty that those dreams might come true because of a cogent, clear and far-reaching vision, which challenged a nation by engaging in goals that were not easy, but instead hard, and because those goals served to organize and measure the best of a nations’ energies and skills.
Consequently, if an interest in STEM is to be fostered and encouraged within Higher Education Institutions Federal governments need to focus on hard and easy goals, for their students, and then position themselves to service those goals through long-term commitments to organize the energies and skills of students for decades.