In the United States alone, there will be a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers come 2018. Additionally, the Bureau for Labour Statistics predicts that STEM jobs will grow 55% faster than non-STEM jobs over the next 10 years (Huffpost Impact, 2014). A change, and a dramatic one at that, is therefore necessary to narrow this growing gap.
The simple truth is that this young generation needs to be properly inspired, to feel a passion to want to learn and pursue it. To achieve this, students should ideally be exposed to this field in their classrooms from a young age. Among others, they can be encouraged to participate in hands-on STEM projects and to experience life-changing moments of discovery with mentors from STEM professions. Another important aspect often overlooked is the need for those currently in the STEM profession to take on the role of mentor to inspire young minds. National surveys have found that nearly two-thirds of teenagers say that one of the reasons they may be discouraged from pursuing a STEM career is because they do not know anyone who works in the field (Huffpost Impact, 2014). Furthermore, the fact that the teenagers don’t understand what people in these fields do could further dissuade them from considering a STEM-related career.
Recognising this, world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama and our very own Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, have been stepping in to devise solutions that address this growing challenge.
In the United States, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released its strategy to improve STEM education in America’s elementary and high schools (Learning First, 2010). This strategy comprises a two-pronged approach focusing on preparing students as well as inspiring students. The former looks at improving STEM education while the latter looks at piquing students’ interest to study STEM subjects and to have careers in the field.
This strategy highlights five general priorities for the Federal Government. These encompass improving federal coordination and leadership, supporting the state-led movement to establish a baseline for what students should learn in STEM courses, cultivating/recruiting/rewarding STEM teachers, creating STEM-related experiences that excite and interest students, and supporting the transformation of schools into STEM learning centres.
It is hoped that these joint efforts from the different parties will create more interest in the STEM field and ultimately eradicate the STEM gap.