Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are not just important topics for school children—they are essential to our culture. These fields help the environment, revolutionize healthcare, innovate our country’s security, and ensure our global economic competitiveness.
According to the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the U.S. is not producing enough STEM undergraduate degrees to match the forecasted demand, creating a national workforce crisis. Fewer people pursuing STEM degrees means fewer scientists finding clever solutions to antibiotics resistance, fewer technophiles turning data into targeted healthcare, fewer engineers designing homes and buildings to withstand rising seas and powerful storms.
We must empower future generations with the tools and knowledge they will need to solve the global problems they will inherit, and that empowerment starts with education.
The Business Higher Education Foundation determined that, by the time students reach high school, 83 percent report lacking proficiency or interest in STEM. That statistic is staggering. Why are so many students disinterested in these fields by the time they reach high school?
Many factors contribute to this disinterest in STEM. Lingering perceptions that science pertains to only certain groups of people and that science is not cool discourage students from showing interest. Students have limited exposure to STEM professionals to serve as role models, particularly in the early school years when they are forming ideas about what they want to become. Schools often struggle with science faculty and materials shortages, lackluster lessons, and a shortage of time to dedicate to the investigative and iterative processes that define science and engineering. Early elementary school teachers may feel ill-prepared to teach STEM topics or may face demands to focus on other subjects.
Fortunately, children are natural learners—inquisitive, energetic, curious—and we can encourage their love of exploration and experimentation in elementary and middle school while our education system works to improve STEM education overall.