Why Invest in Stem Education
Why should we support education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? The answer is simple yet profound. We must all recognize that we live in an era of constant scientific discovery and technological change, which directly affects our lives and requires our input as citizens. And we must recognize that as our economy increasingly depends on these revolutionary new advances, many new jobs will be created in STEM fields. If we are to stay competitive as a nation, then we need to build a scientifically literate citizenry and a bank of highly skilled, STEM-literate employees.
Scientific and technological issues increasingly dominate the national discourse, from environmental debates on climate change and economic threats from invasive species, to concerns about cloning, genetically modified food and the use of vaccines. New advances in areas such as medicine, genetics, communications and energy all directly affect our lives. As consumers, as business professionals and skilled workers, and as citizens, we will have to form opinions about these and other science-based issues if we are to participate fully in modern society. Scientific literacy is the new demand of our post-industrial society (Correai, 2010).
In 2011, 26 million US jobs, about 20 percent of the workforce, required in-depth knowledge in at least one of the STEM fields. However, these STEM jobs are not just growing for those with higher educational degrees. In a report titled "The Hidden STEM Economy", the Brookings Institution states that "Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay... 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements." Clearly, our education system must reflect these changing needs. By systematically teaching STEM subjects to our k-12 students, we can ensure that the so-called "skills gap", where companies have openings for STEM-literate employees but can't fill them due to a shortage of workers with the necessary skills, is closed.
Having the scientific literacy to understand the debates surrounding these issues is now as fundamentally important as learning to read and write. At the Smithsonian Science Education Center we work with scientists and educators to provide children with the scientific knowledge to prepare them to meet the demands of the fast-paced changes both today and tomorrow that will not only help employ them, but help them become the citizens that will continue to change our world.
Correia, P.R.M., Valle, B.X., Dazzani, M., & Infante-Malachias, M.E. (2010). The importance of scientific literacy in fostering education for sustainability: Theoretical considerations and preliminary findings from a Brazilian experience. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(7), 678-685.