There has been a push by governments and educators in Australia in recent years to increase awareness and improve results in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This is due to the declining popularity of these subjects and lagging results compared to international standards.
The problems with STEM arise partly from the belief that these subjects are too difficult for young children. Children unconsciously absorb this fallacy, causing them to grow up with an aversion to STEM. This is particularly a problem for girls who are underrepresented in STEM courses and careers.
The truth is children are naturally curious about their environment and they engage with enthusiasm when they can see STEM’s application to the real world. STEM skills, like literacy skills, should be developed from a very young age by encouraging children to be observant and think about how the things they encounter in their everyday lives function.
Experts agree that STEM skills are critical for productivity and innovation. It is estimated that up to 40% of jobs will be affected by automation within the next 10 years. Students today will be working in roles which have not yet been invented. Studies have found that those equipped with STEM skills are more creative and flexible, giving them a major advantage in the future job market.
It is essential for Australia’s economic growth that young people are inspired to study STEM. According to chief scientist Alan Finkel, those with STEM skills and qualifications “are the lifeblood of emerging knowledge-based industries — such as biotechnology, informational communications technology and advanced manufacturing — and provide competitive advantages to established industries such as agriculture, resources and health care.”
STEM skills are needed for more than jobs and productivity. To be informed citizens in the digital age, young people must have a good understanding of how technology, science and engineering shape society. This allows them to participate and make informed decisions.
Kids should become involved with STEM as early as possible so they a develop a positive outlook towards these learning areas. Teaching concepts in a fun, accessible way and showing their practical applications are the key to taking the fear out of STEM and equipping children with essential skills for the future.