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Good Schools Guide

STEM education develops children’s skill sets to make them ‘future-proof’ in employment market

STEM trends include looking at how science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be introduced from elementary school level

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 11:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 11:37am

We talk to Malcolm Kay, Superintendent of Stamford American School, about his take on the hype surrounding STEM education.

1.How are the concept and curricular framework of STEM different from traditional science subjects?

This is a question that I am often asked. Parents often wonder and rightly so, if STEM education is just the traditional education in science and mathematics with a new name. Traditionally maths skills are needed in science: engineering is applied maths and science: technology is a generic term that covers a wide range of science and engineering skills. Universities and colleges have traditionally been the domain of teaching engineering. Given all of this, then curriculum design in schools has to lead to something more than the sum of the individual parts. Integration of teaching and learning allows students to use combinations of skills and is a useful direction. However, this question points clearly to the need for a cohesive concept to bind these disciplines of learning together. That key factor in our opinion is innovation. Showing children and young adults how to develop new ways to solve existing problems leads to a reason for this area of study. When children are asked to “ask questions, make observations and gather information about a situation that could be forecast in the future that can be solved through a new way of thinking”, we elevate the value of the learning to a new level.

2.What are the latest STEM trends?

STEM education has received a considerable amount of attention as a key focus in training children and young adults in the skills considered important for the next generation of skilled workers. Trends in STEM include looking at how science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be introduced in teaching and learning from elementary school level so that children build a comprehensive skill set.

At Stamford we focus on educating children from the age of five in what we call STEMinn education. We have added the important concept of innovation from an early age. Research shows us that children are capable of creative thought from this age. We expect students at our school to be innovative in their thinking, know how to develop intellectual property and by the time they graduate to understand how to patent their ideas. We believe that innovators drive opportunities in society so as to enrich the lives of themselves and others.

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3.How does STEM extend beyond fancy experiment apparatus and tech toys?

This question is pertinent to the development of STEMinn education. It is easy to think of STEMinn as a tech workshop. However, it is not. Although technology can play a role in understanding concepts such as coding and logic, the essence of STEMinn education is in teaching children a way of thinking as analysts. In other words, it is the development of the skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation that are at the core of a programme designed to teach children to be creative and innovative. The skills of solving existing problems with new ways of thinking can be addressed by creating challenges that are in the domain of science, technology, engineering and maths. The outcome of creating a curriculum that encourages skill development includes developing individuals who are less likely to be redundant in future workforces when automation changes employment opportunity.

4. How does STEM prepare students for 21st century challenges and opportunities?

Forecasting is a science that allows us to predict with some but not complete certainty, opportunities and events that will take place in the future. Many of these future developments will determine job opportunities. Students who have developed the skills of innovative thinking will be more adaptable to future events. They will be able to apply their agile thinking to new circumstances and arrive at reasoned conclusions. STEMinn education will develop children as entrepreneurs of the future so that they will lead or be part of the changes that will take place. Students who have been taught the skills of remember, understand and apply may have little opportunity compared with students who are skilled in analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

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5. With the rise of artificial intelligence, why are we still emphasising subjects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - which could be replaced by machines?

This question gives us an insight into why we place so much emphasis on creating innovative thinkers at Stamford. Our prediction is that although machines can perform functions such as mathematical computation or engineering construction quite competently it will be some time before such machines can commonly demonstrate higher order thinking skills: analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Acceptance of this paradigm means that the role for humans in reasoned thought and especially in the sciences and maths which have at their core the important concept of proof of hypotheses, is likely to be more long lived. We believe in developing skill sets in children that will make them “future-proof” in the ever-changing employment market.