Out of 34 countries, the United States ranks 27th for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education. Out of 71 countries, the United States ranks an unimpressive 38th for Math and 24th for Science. The United States spends more money on education than many countries, yet those dollars have not yielded better performance. For example, The Slovak Republic, which spends around $53,000 USD per student, performs at the same level as the United States, which spends over $115,000 USD per student.
Some might blame government, educators or even parents for the current state of education, but playing the blame game will not solve the problem of education. As a community of business owners and builders, we have a responsibility to help fix the broken educational infrastructure that exists in the United States. A faulty educational system will lead to a problematic workforce in years to come.
Right now, the metrics for measuring quality infrastructure and educational outcomes in the U.S. are lacking. While states do a decent job measuring educational input (the materials used to educate the student), they fall short when measuring educational output (the knowledge acquisition, skills, beliefs, and attitudes of students). And sadly, the metrics often used to measure teacher effectiveness have proven counterproductive to student success outside of the classroom in real-world situations like job performance.
Over the past decade, business has changed dramatically, and as a result, workforce skills and requirements have also changed. There are jobs today that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and with innovative businesses and disruptive projects popping up — Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, Utah-based Sarcos Robotics, Asteroid Mining, Medical Body Part Maker, Holographic Movie Theater — one can only imagine the new roles and job requirements we have yet to see. With the accelerated pace of ever-changing technologies and innovative businesses, you’re not alone in wondering how our educational system is supposed to adapt and keep up. Already, the academic standards for computer science and math are increasing to give businesses and their employees a competitive edge in the global economy. Unfortunately, teachers and schools have had a hard time meeting the demand of these new standards for their students — an issue of scalable sustainability.
Interestingly enough, industry and academic leaders have revealed that the very skills needed for future workforce success are simple technical skills and common real-world skills that have always existed: analysis and real-world problem solving; collaboration and teamwork; business-context communication; and flexibility, agility, and adaptability. What proves even more interesting is that attribution of common real-world skills is directly correlated to STEM education. There have been a myriad of studies establishing a direct link between STEM learning, positive cognitive development, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and adaptability.
STEM topics offer students an opportunity for project-based-learning, an opportunity to fail and try again, and an opportunity to take real-world problems, find solutions and then share their findings with peers. STEM learning is not about every child becoming the next Steve Wozniak. STEM learning is about kids developing the soft skills needed to contribute positively to a global economy of innovation and sustainability.
So what can YOU do? Already, big Utah businesses like Domo, Pluralsight, Inside Sales, and Vivint have adopt-a-school STEM programs or coding camps held throughout the year. Women Tech Council has made big efforts to bring STEM to young women with their SheTech program. And the STEM Action Center has worked closely with local businesses to make sure the community is aware of efforts being made to bring STEM to rural districts. Even my startup, FuzePlay, offers a volunteer program for ordinary parents to bring STEM into their child’s classroom.
As states struggle to measure teacher effectiveness and educational outcomes, our business community in Utah can do much more than offer coding camps and donate money. Here are five things you can start doing today to bring about change:
Lend your business experience to policy makers. Business models can be extremely useful to education, helping offset the measuring difficulties that states face. Bringing a management mindset to education will help measure outputs and not just inputs.
Ask what you can do to help! Schedule a meeting with the STEM Action Center and other businesses or programs who are helping local schools better implement STEM. Ask how you can get involved or support their mission.
Advocate STEM at your child’s school, and if you’re not a parent, advocate at your neighborhood school. Volunteer, meet with the principal or teachers, attend school councils.Listen to the educators, then raise your voice and be a builder.
Educate yourself and don’t ignore the data. Education is ever changing and it can be hard to stay on top of new information and new curriculums. Keep your ears open. It’s easy to become complacent when you don’t have a child in school, or if your child is excelling in school. Don’t ignore the problem, because it is not going away. OECD and PISA are great places to start educating yourself on the data.
Regularly give of your time and skills. Many teachers don’t have the skill-set needed to keep up with the rising computer science standards and other STEM topics, and not every school can afford to hire or train a technical coordinator. Teachers are proactively looking for help. Help them! In addition to FuzePlay’s classroom volunteer program, a new app launched in Utah, STEMmx, that allows you to easily and efficiently volunteer in a variety of settings. Give an hour of your time each month, teach a STEM class, help with computer science, or you could even help set up a makerspace!
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