My view: The increasing necessity for STEM education

By Sidharth Oberoi

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

A closer look at U.S. unemployment statistics shows that even with unemployment still at historically high levels, large numbers of jobs are going unfilled. Most of these jobs have one very important thing in common — the need for STEM education.

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There is a distinct educational disconnect that we need to resolve today. The real word application of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, is increasingly important in the workforce while science and technology are becoming less emphasized in today’s classrooms. The ability for students to gain access to the critical skills these subjects offer is critically important as the future workforce is projected to be dominated by those possessing technology and science skills over the next several decades.

According to a U.S. News and World Report article, “Bringing Real-World Science to the Classroom,” the Oakland Unified School District in California is expanding its high school STEM curriculum and establishing centers that focus on this specific curriculum in its feeder middle schools. It’s a smart and comprehensive plan and approach, and one that Utah should consider to ensure the Beehive State's youth become the scientists, engineers, doctors and skilled technologists and technicians of the future.

Reporters Vince Bertram and John W. McDonald further explain that California’s sustained effort over multiple years will ensure that students are consistently exposed to the real-world application of STEM, including technologies used by innovative high-tech companies across the United States. Technology is pervasive in almost every aspect of daily life. Case in point, when was the last time you went a day without using a computer or smartphone? That said, as the workplace evolves technologically, the demand for STEM knowledge and skills become increasingly important for workers regardless of career path.

A closer look at U.S. unemployment statistics shows that even with unemployment still at historically high levels, large numbers of jobs are going unfilled. Most of these jobs have one very important thing in common — the need for STEM education.

According to a study from Change the Equation (www.changetheequation.org), there are 3.6 unemployed workers for every job in the U.S. That compares with only one unemployed STEM worker for two unfilled jobs of that kind across the country. Furthermore, 90 percent of talent recruiters say that 10 years from now, four-year STEM degree holders will be more in demand than their counterparts without these undergraduate or graduate degrees.

The demand and need for STEM is clearly present in society. Society creates a disservice to today’s youth when we don’t acknowledge the need for such programs. While younger students are beginning their exposure to these fields through extended day field trips, more is required to close the gap. Utah schools such as Neil Armstrong Academy and Academy for Math, Engineering & Science are a great start; after-school enrichment programs like Zaniac also support the effort. However, applicable STEM funding, promotion and curriculum must also be adopted in the near-term.

To help close the gap, adds Bertram and McDonald, we need solutions that prepare students for the global economy and for ensuring America’s continued competitiveness. Part of the solution involves changing the classroom experience, including hands-on projects and trial-and-error processes to effectively bridge theory and practice and bring STEM subjects alive.

I couldn’t agree more that now is the time for the next educational paradigm shift: igniting and inspiring minds by making STEM learning fun. Children need to become excited about these subjects at a young age and not intimated; they must be able to continually explore their curiosities, push their imagination, and be involved in a learning process that engages and challenges them every step of the way. In the end, it’s all about making learning fun, incorporating play, and fostering an environment that creates avenues for this 21st century educational journey.

Sidharth Oberoi is chief academic officer at Zaniac, an after-school STEM enrichment program for children in grades K-8. Zaniac has three campuses located in Park City, Sugar House and Greenwich, Conn., with additional expansion to come in 2014.

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