Start at the Beginning:
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It’s become a buzzword for educators, entrepreneurs and politicians around the world who see STEM skills as vital to future success.
Tell Me More!
The focus on STEM was a response to concerns that, worldwide, governments and corporations hadn’t been putting enough effort into developing this kind of expertise, and that too few high school and university students were interested in studying these ‘nerdy’ subjects. Jobs were going unfilled and potentially important developments were being missed, so reports were commissioned, programmes begun and changes to teaching methods introduced.
“Our modern world runs on STEM.”
Karen Andrews, Australia’s Assistant Minister for Science
By the Numbers
personal donation to British STEM initiatives in 2013 from musician and passionate STEM advocate will.i.am.
of the fastest-growing occupations require significant science or maths skills, according to the US Dept of Education.
What Do World Leaders Say?
US President Barack Obama made education in STEM a priority right from the start. In 2009 he created a programme called Educate to Innovate, which links public and private organisations to build interest in these subjects, saying at the launch, “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.” He followed through with gestures large and small, including hosting yearly students’ Science Fairs at the White House. Many other world leaders are advocates. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says more science and technology graduates are needed to make his Smart Nation Programme succeed. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says that to succeed, his country’s students must develop “a scientific temper”. And Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a long-time believer in “digital literacy” says STEM knowledge should be incorporated from the start of school – “instead of teaching students how to be passive consumers of technology … our educators should be teaching students how to create, how to code.”
What’s the Diversity Issue?
As well as the push to make STEM subjects more appealing across the board, effort is being made to address the field’s gender, racial and other imbalances. Globally less than a third of researchers in STEM areas are female, however some countries are better than others. In China, women make up about 40% of the STEM workforce, whereas in Australia, the figure is only about 25%. Women and people of non-European descent are also under-represented in the top STEM jobs – both in terms of pay and directorships.
Not exactly, but some people feel the emphasis on STEM is too one-sided. In advocating the benefits of a general arts education, US Professor of Philosophy Douglas MacLean said, “The humanities as a whole seem to be on the defensive, as attention and funding flow to the STEM disciplines”.