Why, 15 years later does STEM/STEAM education fall short?

Sadly, there is not just one answer. There are a variety of factors. Schools are quick to say, “we offer STEM/STEAM education” and parents drink the cool aid and say “OK, my child needs that” and they have checked the parenting box without always understanding what STEM education means in their school and to their child.

To share a quote from a colleague, “There’s a divisiveness to STEM that is similar to the country’s political climate right now…”career preparedness for trades” versus “advancement of knowledge, innovation and technology.” 

I was talking with this same well respected colleague, referenced above, about my dealings with different schools and school districts and how surprised I was at some of my discoveries. In addition to the “career preparedness” vs “knowledge acquisition” which is a hurdle we have to overcome, it should not be one or the other.

(And keep in mind knowledge acquisition does not necessarily mean “capability,” it can be a smorgasbord of experiences and exposure – and that is very different from developing capability.)

There is also a wide spread “STEM for some” vs “STEM for all” deployment model in schools and districts. The schools and districts that operate with a “STEM for all mindset” meaning they look for ways to incorporate STEM and STEAM knowledge, skills and activities throughout the school day and in a variety of classes and applications throughout their K-12 experiences. Schools districts operating with the “STEM for all” mindset are doing great things for our students, and, for our future young people transitioning to adulthood and the workforce. Then there are those who operate with a “STEM for some” model. Yes, we have school districts that have operate with this mindset today! Students have to be chosen or referred, only a limited number of students can participate, and/or it may require participation in an afterschool club or a gifted program. This model flies in the face of everything I believe in, and the reason I founded Bright Young Minds Coalition. It saddens me to think that of how many students are being short changed as a result. They don’t know it and neither do their parents – quite frankly it is an injustice in my opinion. It is the “STEM for some” model that is instrumental in the breakdown of interest in STEM as a whole. This “STEM for some” model is also responsible for the low number of minority, economically disadvantaged and female participants in STEM careers. All schools and districts must adopt and teach “ALL” students about the many STEM related fields, and careers and developing the skills necessary to work in these fields. Graduating high with a STEM focused plan will lead to their financial stability, which will lead to improved health and well-being and numerous other benefits.

I ask that we take this seriously, it is our duty to prepare our students for adulthood, ALL students. We cannot simply skimp or skip over the low performing students and schools; we cannot cherry pick who gets to participate. And to compound the problems, we also see a steady decline in STEM interest as students progress from Middle School to High School.

Not keeping our students engaged at the high school level leads to students skipping or dropping out of high school, graduating high school with low G.P.A’s with no plan, more youthful offenders, more teen pregnancies, and a plethora of students entering the workforce ill prepared.

Please take the time to raise these questions with your schools and school districts. Programs that support the development of Life Skills, Social Skills and Career Skills, like STEM/STEAM, Invention, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Financial Education should not be treated as an elective or a privilege. They are a necessity and should be a right for all students and should be taught with the goal of comprehension and capability.