There’s a lot of talk about STEM education these days, and for very good reason. As our world becomes ever more integrated with technology, our economies are intertwined with it as well. Yet, as career roles that require STEM skills continue to grow, less students are prepared to take on those roles. If we want to prepare students for expanding STEM career pathways, a focus on STEM education becomes more and more important.
There are a number of benefits of STEM Education that may surprise you. From giving students the tools to succeed in expanding industries to teaching them to work with others, STEM is important. Before we get into the importance of stem education, however, let’s define what STEM education is.
What is STEM?
STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and math. These disciplines form the foundation of many of today’s fastest growing career fields and are needed in more traditional fields too. Getting students interested in STEM learning early and investing in STEM education in schools is crucial to meeting the demands of our future economy.
STEM projects introduce students to real-world problems and allow them to solve them through critical thinking and trial and error. It’s much more akin to the way problems are solved in everyday lives. A rapidly growing number of career pathways require these skills. Helping students fill these roles with a solid STEM foundation is crucial to solving the world’s biggest problems. But, the benefits of STEM education don’t end at career development. The skills learned can impact every aspect of a student’s personal and professional life. Here’s how.
10 Benefits of STEM Education
As mentioned earlier, STEM education encompasses many of the skill sets students need to be successful, not only in work but in life. Learning the skill sets associated with STEM early on has a ripple effect that improves the way students approach life moving into adulthood. Let’s look at ten benefits of STEM education that make it such a worthwhile investment.
STEM Introduces Real-World Situations to the Classroom
Let’s start with the nuts and bolts. STEM projects focus on solving real-world problems by applying STEM skills and learning. Whether students are building mini-ecosystems to support water filtration or simulating demands on an electrical grid, they can see lessons in action. This is important if they are to make the connections that engrain the lesson. This visualization of learning in action is one of the benefits of STEM education.
STEM Teaches Students to Work Together
Of all the benefits of STEM education, this one may be the most important to a student’s future happiness. No matter what life path they follow, chances are, they will have to work with others. They will need to get along with coworkers, and need to work with their families to be happy at home. Learning how to do so effectively can make the difference between calm and chaos. Gaining skills to work as a team toward a common goal early in their lives sets young people up for success in adulthood. STEM projects teach both the fundamentals and benefits of working together.
STEM Teaches Students to Communicate Effectively
Knowing how to communicate effectively is a part of teamwork and contributes to happiness. If students can’t communicate effectively, it is difficult to get the things they want or need, or to get things done without frustration. They also cannot give others what they need without effective communication skills.
Through teamwork, STEM teaches students active listening skills and how to look at problems from different perspectives. When students learn empathy and solid communication skills, both their working and personal lives benefit.
STEM Encourages Independent Innovation
Innovation in STEM education comes about organically through STEM lessons. While working as a team to solve real-world problems innovation is encouraged. Problems need to be examined from multiple perspectives to find working solutions. By examining problems and applying STEM skills to solve them innovation can easily result.
STEM Strengthens Critical Thinking Skills
Real-world problems can often be solved in many different ways. Some will work better than others, but there is more than one right answer. STEM-related projects encourage students to use their critical thinking skills and apply STEM lessons to work through different solutions. Working to come up with the best option is a great way to develop critical thinking skills. That’s good because those skills will serve students well in nearly every aspect of their future lives.
STEM Improves Cognitive Skills
For cognitive skills to remain sharp, it’s important to exercise them. Cognitive skills refer to things like memory, reasoning, reading, learning and awareness. These skills form the foundation of learning, so the stronger they are, the better students become at solving complex problems. Engaging in STEM activities stretches and strengthens these skills and prepares students to take on important and exciting challenges.
STEM Teaches Students to Access Information Effectively
Working on real-life problems often means there is no textbook to consult. Students must do their own research and come to their own conclusions. The more complex the problem, the more elusive the answer may be. Learning to solve difficult problems and relying on the ability to do so, paves the road to self-reliance.
STEM Teaches Resiliency
Not every proposed solution to any given problem will work out. Sometimes the solutions students try fail to solve the problem at hand. It’s okay, and learning to let go of failed solutions and try new ones at a young age is an important life lesson. Learning to deal with constructive criticism and push ahead to do better the next time provides an invaluable lesson. Teaching this resilience is one of the incredibly important benefits of STEM education.
STEM Cultivates Curiosity
Curiosity is the catalyst of innovation. Before making improvements to anything, students need to want to see it done better. The complex issues presented through STEM projects require a sense of curiosity and out of box thinking to find innovative solutions. It’s a fantastic way to foster curiosity and imagination, as well as strengthen young minds.
STEM Shows Students Different Career Pathways
When students are introduced to STEM at a young age and are inspired to build their STEM skills, they get a glimpse of what their futures could look like. If young students play and learn engineering educational STEM games they realize STEM can be fun and are inspired to continue to learn and build their STEM skills. They may discover a love for data analysis or computer engineering or industrial design. They may see a future career open before their eyes. Who knows? Maybe a student gets inspired to host STEM education podcasts when they get older. It’s exciting when students learn and succeed in new disciplines. Finding out that STEM-related jobs involve doing things students like and can pay well is a huge cherry on top.
STEM vs STEAM education
There is a closely related educational concept known as STEAM. It teaches all the same skills and concepts as STEM but adds in the arts. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
Adding the arts into a STEM curriculum may seem out of place, but it’s an excellent complement. Arts teach us to be creative and use critical thinking skills to solve abstract problems and communicate abstract concepts for human understanding. It teaches empathy and how to take on different perspectives and viewpoints. This all supports students in both learning STEM skills and applying them in the real world with real humans.
Art is subjective. There is no right or wrong way to paint a picture or create a sculpture, beyond turning on our imaginations and communicating through any number of artistic mediums. This learning allows students to grow confident in thinking outside the box in both big and small ways. Creativity is a muscle too. Exercising it feeds innovation. Arts provide the intangible that is required in innovation. It also adds a sense of play and imagination, but also the human connection that is often required in communication, teamwork and tackling big solutions to complex problems.
At the end of the day, both STEM and STEAM programs are incredible learning tools for any student. If you want to know how to improve STEM education, add in the arts.
The Importance of Starting Early
So, why is STEM important in early childhood education? There are a lot of great benefits of STEM education that prepare students for their futures, but building STEM skills does not happen overnight. It takes time. The earlier a student starts the better. Inspiring students early to enjoy STEM learning and building their confidence to continue to build STEM skills is vital.
STEM education gives young students the skills that will make them feel confident in themselves. Learning them early on, helps students know that there is nothing stopping them from pursuing anything they want. They learn how to determine where they want to go, and how to go about getting there. The benefits of a STEM education gives them the skills to get there too.
What are the Disadvantages of STEM Education Initiatives?
STEM approaches to quality education are difficult to apply across the board. Not every district has the resources needed to incorporate a comprehensive curriculum or hire for full-time STEM education jobs.
Lack of Qualified Teachers
According to a US Labor Statistics report, only about 20% of graduating seniors are prepared for college-level STEM courses. This points to a lack of comprehensive STEM education programming across most school districts. Some of this lack can be attributed to a shortage of teachers. But the problem goes deeper than that.
The shortage of qualified educators extends into STEM educators too. Building a quality STEM education program requires teachers who can help students fulfill their full potential. Supporting programs that train qualified STEM educators is an important part to the overall puzzle of implementing quality STEM education in K-12 schools.
There is a gap between insufficient STEM education and expanding STEM careers. Inspiring students to want to study STEM lessons and showing students the many different career pathways STEM offers can be beneficial. STEM education outreach programs, like NTC’s creative approach to workforce development, can help fill this gap.
Not all Schools Can Afford It
Developing a comprehensive STEM program from scratch can be a costly endeavor. School districts often lack funding and resources to implement comprehensive STEM programs and STEM educators are often spread thin in districts to support full programs. Even though, according to a US Labor Statistics report, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 11% by 2030, the National Science Foundation has found that less than half of US K-12 schools even offer a computer science class. How can stem education shape the future if access presents a barrier? That’s where sponsored STEM education outreach can step in.
Sponsoring STEM education programs can give young people a leg up, but also give companies the future workforce they need. The benefits of STEM education are hard to ignore. It’s important that we make this education accessible to all of our young people. No matter a child’s situation, they can reach their full potential with the support of community education outreach programs.
Preparing Students for the Future
The biggest benefits of STEM education is found in all the ways it helps prepare students for the future. STEM education programs help students build skills that help them continue to learn beyond their school years. The future of work is such that most of the jobs that students today will be working in have not yet been invented or the work will be done differently than it is today. With a solid STEM education with the arts added in, students learn to learn. This is what is most needed to prepare them for their future.