The Importance of STEM Education in the United States

Recent technological advances have brought about a new paradigm in global connectivity, making information and technology accessible to a rapidly growing audience. As the size of our global network continues to expand, the global economy leans more heavily on innovation, efficiency, and sustainability. This reliance causes competition to significantly increase in markets focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Meanwhile, research shows that students in the U.S. are consistently lagging behind their international counterparts in all areas of study, most notably math and science. In order for individuals, companies, and our nation to remain competitive in today’s evolving global economy, education also has to evolve.

How do we compare internationally?

When comparing global education performance, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is one of the leading measurement tools. Every three years, PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to measure the math, science, and reading literacy of 15-year-old students from 71 countries. The most recent PISA results show that students in the U.S. are lagging behind, coming in 23rd for reading, 24th for science, and 38th for math. 2015-pisa-results-new What’s more, despite the importance of having knowledge and skills in STEM fields to compete in today’s economy, the U.S.’s PISA scores haven’t improved over the years. In fact, there has been a decline in the U.S.’s scores since 2009. pisa-over-the-years At the same time, other countries, who were once limited by their resources and scarce access to technology, now have many of the same tools available to them and can compete with larger countries in these areas. Students in developing countries now have greater opportunity to obtain a formal education, helping them climb the PISA rankings and ultimately perform better in the global economy. Looking at these statistics, it’s clear that if the U.S. wants to remain competitive for years to come, we have to invest in our educational programs – especially those in STEM fields. We must challenge our young minds with novel ideas that push the envelope of possibility and understanding.

Giving students the education they deserve

Luckily, we’ve seen a massive push for STEM programs within our K-12 school system within the last decade – largely in response to recognizing our struggles in the global economy. One of the most exciting developments has been the rising popularity of programs and organizations focused on cultivating the next generation of STEM professionals. Non-profit organization Project Lead the Way (PLTW), for example, is bringing STEM initiatives into the classroom by developing specialized curriculum and programs for K-12 students across the globe. PLTW aims to empower students to learn and encourages them to pursue a STEM-focused education, while also ensuring our schools are producing the most competitive graduates. Research indicates that PLTW is very much succeeding at their mission. According to a study from the IU School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, students who complete three or more PLTW courses are six times more likely to major in STEM field. Additionally, these students are more like to graduate with honors, score well on standardized tests, and go on to pursue a career in STEM. pursue a career in stem Another organization inspiring students to pursue a STEM education is FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). By engaging students from kindergarten to high school in mentor-based programs focused on research and robotics competitions, FIRST® aims “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” Similar to PLTW, students who participate in FIRST® programs are significantly more likely to pursue STEM education, with 75% of FIRST® alumni in a STEM field as a student or professional. With programs such as PLTW and FIRST® showing such promising results in fostering student’s interest in and passion for STEM, it makes sense that we push for programs such as these to be more widely implemented. In doing so, our students will be better set up to succeed.

Building our future in the global economy

Global demand for highly-competitive STEM-related jobs continues to increase and it is our educational system’s responsibility to ensure our students are best positioned to compete. With the help of dedicated programs, we can successfully expose students to the exciting opportunities within the STEM field and help them develop a deep understanding and passion for these important subjects. As we lay the groundwork at the primary level, U.S. graduates will gain a competitive advantage in the global market brightening the future for our participation in the global economy.

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Matt Eidam
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