Importance of STEM for the future

324

Sunil Mohal

“What binds together the STEM movement is the notion of modern skills. Employers talk about problem-solving. Society requires problem-solving. Doing your taxes requires problem-solving. Those are the types of skills that really matter. A practicing engineer will tell you, ‘I didn’t use the calculus I learned to solve problems on paper, but the way it taught me to solve problems and to think about problems was really important.’” —James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition in Washington, D.C.

The term “STEM” short for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” is being increasingly used in education. This term finds use when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development.

Many might be lulled into thinking that STEM skills aren’t important because there are millions of jobs not directly associated with these skills. After all, not everyone is an Engineer, Doctor or Computer Programmer. There are hospitality professionals, those in Supply Chain, Agriculture etc., and at times a direct linkage is missed. In India where 65% of the labour force is in Agriculture alone, one might be tempted to not give it the importance it is due.

However, with the fast-changing world; just look at how we interact today; and you would realize that no area is untouched without the use of some form of technology. Even seeds are GM (Genetically Modified) today. Initiatives like “e-Choupal” by private companies to enhance supply chains by directly linking with rural farmers via the Internet for procurement of agricultural and aquaculture products like soybeans, wheat, coffee, and prawns is having a visible impact on the use of technology and the need for updated skills.

“Today, we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology, to name just a few, are all building on and amplifying one another. This will lay the foundation for a revolution more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen. Smart systems—homes, factories, farms, grids or cities—will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change,” says The Future of Jobs by the World Economic Forum, 2016. This report further states that by 2020: “Creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need. With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, [employees] are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes.”

The implications for workforce development from the “STEM” perspective is huge. Changing times require a greater understanding of quantitative skills and the ability to manipulate data.

“Students need to be able to make a decision not just based on what they think or feel, but on scientific data that supports the best solution. Everyone needs to know how to do this. It doesn’t matter whether you go on to a career in STEM or not—you need to know how to use data to make informed decisions in your life.”—Stacy Klein-Gardner, director of Center for STEM Education for Girls at Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee.

A view on Employment in the US reveals the following:

• According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics- US Govt.; “Depending on the definition, the size of the STEM workforce can range from 5 percent to 20 percent of all U.S. workers.”.

• Another report from 2015 stated that STEM jobs accounted for more than half of employment in five industries. It further stated that “STEM occupations made up 6.2 percent of overall national employment, but between one- and two-thirds of employment in some industries.”

• “The U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index shows that STEM employment in the United States has gone up by more than 30 percent, from 12.8 million STEM jobs (as defined by the U.S. government) in 2000 to 16.8 million in 2013. But those numbers do not include jobs in non-traditionally STEM fields that still require STEM skills.”

Some of the basic areas touched by STEM:

• Need to maintain accuracy in record-keeping and communicate findings.

• Research and Development: Research topics and determine good, reliable sources of information.

• Marketing, Sales and Business Development: Recognize cause and effect relationships and distinguish fact and opinion.

• Architecture, and the construction industry: Use mathematical skills for calculations and measurements.

• Any field involving any machine. Read and understand technical materials.

• Telecom and Communications.

• Agriculture: New technologies impacting produce, storage, planning and distribution.

• Power and Electricity: Production from Mining to generation, distribution and collection.

• Hospitality: Science is today being used in the creation of dishes, hotel management, travel and leisure planning.

• Ultimately, it’s all about skills.

Sunil Mohal, Co-founder, k12aspire.com, has been engaged in helping students and professionals maximise their skills for the last 30 years. He has been exposed to the Hospitality Industry and the Defence Services which have imbibed the virtues of customer service with discipline. Having setup Computer Programs in many of the leading schools in India; both Public and Government like JNV’s, he brings enormous practical experience of Academia. Sunil has been engaged in technology assisted learning solutions for almost 30 years. Having also engaged with some of the largest IT companies in the world he understands the enormous challenges of change and its impact on people.