Should all schools focus on STEM learning? | The Tylt

Should all schools focus on STEM learning?

In the education world, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is quickly becoming a term synonymous with 21st century skills. Advocates of STEM learning say it helps students apply science and math skills in everyday life, and the earlier that bridge is built, the better. Still, schools have to bend over backwards in order to earn official STEM certification, and some say an emphasis on STEM means less time for things like arts and history. Should all elementary schools offer an emphasis in STEM, or is a more balanced approach necessary?

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According to Teach Thought, a group dedicated to furthering innovation in education, STEM education is vital due to a growing demand for workers with STEM expertise:

The Society for Human Resources Management reports that there were more than 3.1 million STEM job openings in 2016. These openings persist due to the lack of well-trained STEM candidates.
With so many STEM jobs available and not enough workers to fill the positions, STEM education has become a growing priority.

The National Math and Science Initiative agrees, and adds to the argument that the U.S. should focus on STEM education early on in order to gain a competitive edge in the global marketplace: 

STEM job creation over the next 10 years will outpace non-STEM jobs significantly, growing 17 percent, as compared to 9.8 percent for non-stem positions.Jobs in computer systems design and related services – a field dependent on high-level math and problem-solving skills – are projected to grow 45 percent between 2008 and 2018. 
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Although most will agree education in STEM areas is necessary, not everyone believes an emphasis on STEM should dominate K-12 education. According to the Charlotte Observer's John Murawski, fears of the U.S. falling behind in STEM is a "largely built on a mirage." Murawski refers to Queens College political science professor and author Andrew Hacker on the subject: 

A social critic known for his contrarian streak, Hacker says our STEM obsession is fueled by a manufactured crisis and is having destructive consequences for our society. It privileges a narrow range of talents, to the great disadvantage of students who aren’t wired that way, and ultimately will result in a job shortage for American technology workers.

Murawski and Hacker share a concern about students' ability to succeed across the board in STEM-focused schools, but Hacker takes things a step further, arguing a STEM focus in schools will lead to an over-supply of STEM workers, resulting in lower wages: 

Hacker is among the skeptics who suspect the high-tech industry is promoting STEM-focused training for its own ends: to glut the job market with an oversupply of technology workers in a ploy to drive down the cost of labor. 
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STEM education can take form in many ways. Among areas of study like computer science and robotics New York City Department of Education also lists sustainability, urban gardening, financial literacy and health and wellness as STEM topics. In these ways and more, STEM focus in schools can cross over into the humanities. 

Furthermore, the STEM workforce is in great need of diversity. According to PEW, women, Black and Hispanic workers remain underrepresented in STEM fields. By focusing on STEM education early on, elementary schools can help shift this trend. As PEW points out, education is not the only barrier to entry when it comes to STEM careers, but creating accessible STEM education across the board certainly helps. 

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There are some who believe STEM is missing a letter; STEAM should be the prevailing education system. The "A" stands for "art," but can be broadened to include the studies of humanities at large. The New York Times' Patricia Cohen explains the importance of the humanities in education in the U.S.: 

Education tends to be justified in terms of personal exploration and fulfillment, as well as creating informed citizens who make a functioning democracy possible. The humanities have traditionally been seen as crucial to both endeavors.

As the Conversation's Richard Lachman points out, science, technology, and the humanities are intimately intertwined. Lachman lists examples like genetic editing, geoengineered solutions to climate change and more. Without a thorough understanding of ethics and society, STEM fields cannot hope to make the world a better place. 

An emphasis on STEM education alone risks losing sight of other essential subject matters. As Lachman writes: 

And how else do our universities teach empathy, ethics and citizenship than through our arts and humanities fields?
FINAL RESULTS
Culture
Should all schools focus on STEM learning?
A festive crown for the winner
#FocusOnSTEM
#NoEmphasisOnSTEM