Thoughts on STEM ED

A recent tweet on iRobotSPARK led to a thoughtful student take on STEM Ed on Ty Romeo’s Weblog, in response to a TechCrunch article on the Tech Education Debate. Whew! All those people thinking some powerful thoughts!

In the TechCrunch piece, former INTEL Chairman and CEO Craig Barrett observes, ” If the US is really serious about competing in the 21st Century economy we will have to decide to compete. This simply means that you have to create the work force (smart people), invest in R&D (smart ideas) and make sure the environment is attractive to investment in innovation (do something about tax rates, make it easier to form corporations, provide incentives to invest in R&D and make capital investments, etc). Otherwise you will see the continuous flight of capital and jobs to regions of the world where governments have made the environment more attractive. This is not a simple issue of wage rates—corporations chase after the best possible work force in areas where the total cost is most attractive and often the total cost is much more heavily weighted by corporate tax rates and incentives, not wage rates.

“STEM education is key for our future, “ he says. ” We need a major upgrade in our K-12 education to produce high school graduates who understand and appreciate STEM.  We need more undergraduates majoring in STEM for the jobs of the 21st Century. And we need more STEM graduate students to drive those industries that are key to our future. As a measure of how rapidly things are changing with time, it used to be that many STEM Ph.Ds turned right around and went after faculty positions in our universities. Today, STEM Ph.Ds are the entry level education requirements to get into the engineering and research laboratories of the successful tech corporations in the US, like Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, IBM, etc. It is also certain that not every STEM graduate is going to pursue a limited career in STEM. STEM education is a great introduction to many other professions – the basis of STEM education being problem solving means that this education is a great entry to other jobs. In fact the most common educational background of the Fortune 500 CEOs is engineering. So at a time when the rest of the world is gearing up for competition let’s refocus the US to do the same.”

His debate partner, Duke/UC-Berkeley professor Vivek Wadhwa, agrees about the need to improve K-12 education and the importance of STEM education., but says, “The question is, how do you motivate American children to enter fields like science and engineering that are harder than others to learn, don’t provide the economic rewards, and that aren’t considered “cool”? We can’t force our children to do PhDs in math.

“… many engineering and science PhDs can’t even get jobs – in academia or industry. This is after they have worked for years at ridiculously low wages as researchers or postdocs. Those that do get jobs don’t ever make up for the financial sacrifice they have made. When American children choose to study science or engineering, their friends call them geeks or nerds – they are made to feel inferior. Their Indian and Chinese counterparts are held in high regard by society and end up at the top of the social ladder. Indian and Chinese engineers and scientists are often national heroes. Here, our kids idolize football players and rock stars.

Barret and Wadhwa both agree that more kids need to be interested in STEM at the K-12 level and come to see it as fun, exciting and lucrative — the whole point, of course, of FIRST!

 Tyler Romeo’s high school student perspective on all this deserves serious consideration.  His summary of the main problems: “…bad teaching does not lead to motivation, lack of opportunity leads to a feeling of imprisonment which does not lead to motivation, and lack of technology in the classroom causes lack of awareness which does not lead to motivation. The problem does not lie in colleges, but in the fact that high schools are not providing the proper environment for students to take root and grow. We are stuck in a strict path culminating with some sort of test, no opportunity for true understanding, no chance at outside development, and no time to explore what should already be in the classroom in the first place. “

Romeo adds, “Hopefully the high school perspective of high school education will have an effect on people’s opinions. Because it seems many people have a misconception about what and how we think, and how we are motivated.”

I’m with Romeo, and hope not only schools, but FIRST, as well, will consider hearing out the real stakeholders in our national effort to raise science, technology, math and engineering to more esteemed levels in the US. – the students we want to engage and support.   Incorporate Student Advisory Boards into STEM ed planning and tap into the peer engagement of students like Romeo and the thousands of students of involved in programs like FIRST. 

They’re enthusiastic about what they like; they have ideas to share, and they have a keen and ready grasp of the technology needed to share it.  Bring great teachers and mentors together with students ready to lead and with ideas to share, and we’ll have our national heroes!

Read the complete TechCrunch article at http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/14/craig-barrett-takes-on-vivek-wadhwa-in-the-tech-education-debate/ 

And Tyler Romeo’s High School Perspective on STEM Ed at http://parent5446.blogspot.com/2010/03/high-school-perspective-on-stem.html

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