Is STEM education beneficial in the elementary classroom?

For the past twenty years STEM has been the center of focus for many governments, institutions and corporations in the field of education. Billions of dollars have been invested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. By now, most of us are all familiar with STEM and its importance to the global economy and its impact on innovation and research. Today STEM is becoming progressively important for elementary literacy in our economy. Scientific knowledge and research is no longer considered for the elite but for the betterment of this world.

What is STEM?

STEM is an education curriculum that provides emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The STEM curriculum ranges from preschool to doctorate programs, contingent on resources that are provided to the schools and institutions. The focus of STEM is not just in the United States, but also globally. STEM-based learning modules are designed to increase students’ curiosity in pursuing higher education and specialized careers in those fields. Innovation and technology is constantly growing and being integrated into our daily lives.

Why STEM is vital at the elementary level?

Research has proven that children, who are exposed to STEM education at an early level, will be prepared to understand STEM concepts in their latter academic career. A child’s understanding and familiarity of a subject at an early age molds their brain. Hence, the earlier the educators implement STEM lessons into their curriculum, the more chances of a child to develop a deeper understanding of these skills, and develop an interest for the future. Once these students are exposed to STEM, they will want to explore more opportunities in STEM. As studies show, by the time students reach the forth grade, 30 per cent of girls and boys have lost an interest in science related subjects. Once students have reached the eighth grade, nearly 50 per cent have lost interest in their future career plans. Gradually we are seeing more applications and programs such as the Kid’s Academy that allow kids to discover their curiosity early.

As the worlds focus shift towards STEM, government policymakers and educators have realized that by providing the right tools to the youth to succeed in STEM, it is providing them a big advantage in their future.

Right now we have a lot of ground to cover and need a lot of resources to attract the new generation. In Canada, fewer than half of high schools students graduate with senior STEM courses despite the fact that nearly 70 per cent of Canada’s best jobs require this type of learning. Currently in Canada, there is also a huge demand for women in STEM, as there is a decline of women in these STEM related programs. According to Engineers Canada the national enrollment of women at the University level STEM programs is approximately 20 percent, nearly only 14 per cent of the country’s 280,000 professional engineers are women. Corporations like General Motors Canada believe early exposure in an encouraging environment is the key to changing mindsets and aiding students develop confidence and a keen interest in these fields. GM Canada has been setting up various programs and partnerships to help children gain access to STEM education, mentorship opportunities and real life projects which demonstrate the real life impact of these careers, which increases their interest and enables them to embrace engineering, science and technology related degrees. This is the best way, as innovation leads to new discoveries and processes that fuel to thrive our economy.

Educators should not be the only ones carrying the burden of encouraging STEM education; parents and local communities should be equally making their contributions to children and the youth.

Gender and STEM

Considering gender differences is very important when it comes to STEM. As more and more girls are seeking careers in the science, tech and engineering field. Associating STEM and girls may present a challenge because in many societies girls at the elementary school level are differentiated on what it means to be a female. Often times, being a technician, mechanic, scientist or working with technology and fixing things can be associated with the male gender. STEM education and curriculums need to encourage girls that they too are made for STEM activities and careers and make them feel welcome in the world of STEM.

As mentioned earlier, women remained underrepresented in the engineering and science field, comparatively much less from the past, still lots of work to do. Educators, decision makers, policy makers and leaders should encourage girls to various areas of STEM and provide women mentors for girls and adolescent girls so it can become a mentoring cycle. There are social media influencers, it’s about time we have more female scientist influencers and role models. Role models are extremely important, to both women and girls of different ages, they need to be shown how fulfilling and exciting a career in STEM can be.

The government of Canada launched a campaign earlier last year to encourage younger women to embrace science. Science Minister Kirsty Duncan marked the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. She initiated a social media campaign, accompanied by a website, which used the promotional hashtag “Choose Science”. Kirsty Duncan made the following statement “On this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I want to encourage girls and young women to choose science—because choosing science helps to create a culture of curiosity. By asking questions and exploring all opportunities, our young women will be on a road to making discoveries that will change Canada and the world for the better.”

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