How We’re Catapulting STEM Education into the 2020s

She Maps Team
She Maps Team
29 Dec 2019
She Maps co-founders and STEM professional development trainers Dr Karen Joyce and Paul Mead

It’s the end of 2019! It’s exciting to think that the kids we taught in the last decade are going to be the workforce of the 2030s — a workforce that will create some phenomenal, much-needed change in the world.

We know that you champion STEM education as much as we do in the classroom. Part of this, as educators, is reflecting on why we do what we do, the status quo, and where to from here. And what better time to do that than as we close out this last decade and head into the 2020s.

The Status Quo for STEM Education Literacy

STEM literacy in Australia and the USA is not where it needs to be. The latest PISA figures for 2018 were released a couple of weeks ago. These look at 15-year olds around the world and their ability to apply their knowledge and skills to real-life problems.

In Australia, science literacy has dropped the equivalent of one full school year. Maths literacy isn’t doing much better with many countries ahead of Australia. Students in China, the highest performing country, are about 3.5 full school years ahead of Australian students.

When we take a broader look at industry statistics, these areas are what is needed the most in industry. A 2018 study by Price Waterhouse Cooper’s reported that 77% of jobs will need technological skills by 2020. The gap between the supply of appropriately skilled workers and the demand for them keeps widening.

Where to From Here?

Those statistics can feel overwhelming — and simply more escalated versions of what we already know. But it isn’t all doom and gloom.

What we know from the last decade is that STEM skills are essential, and they’re going to continue to be so as we move into the 2020s.

For the last three years, we’ve been engaging across different sectors to increase STEM literacy and interest in STEM professional development. Not only do we have a focus on the P-12 years with schools, but also with universities, industry, and government.

We’ve found that there are several factors involved with unpacking STEM and creating STEM skills for the future workforce.

Part of that is the technical skills. The hands-on skills learned when students are using the likes of robots and drones.

The other important part is the highly transferrable STEM skills that students learn when they’re using these technologies.

What Skills, What Technology?

We all get caught up in wondering what technology we ‘should’ be teaching students. Will robotics be better; everyone’s talking about coding; drones are best for learning. (We think that last one is true, although we could be a little biased).

The good thing is that students all these transferrable STEM skills is using different technologies.

Here’s a more practical way of explaining the different types of skills:

Technology-Specific Skills

When a student does one of our She Maps courses, they learn skills that are specifically related to drones. Really valuable. Why? Drones will transform multiple industries like transport and agriculture, and some students will take that and run with it.

And that’s great because the drone industry is booming. In America, for non-military use, it’s set to hit around $14 billion by 2020. To compare that with us here in Australia – currently, the tourism industry is worth around $45 billion, while the media and entertainment industry is worth about $35 billion. The drone industry is definitely not loose change!

Drone skills = technology-specific. Moving onto transferrable STEM skills.

Enterprise STEM Skills

The highly transferrable STEM skills we were referring to are cognitive skills, so they’re harder to see. They’re also referred to as enterprise skills or 21st Century skills. 

What do these skills look like in practice?

When students do a She Maps program, they are required to gather aerial data about a natural disaster from one of our town maps. It’s less about the type of technology and more about applying different cognitive thought patterns to achieve a result.

Their brains forge new pathways in essential areas:

  • Clear communication skills – they know there’s a lot at stake with a natural disaster. Listening to new ideas becomes vital in case there’s a better way. Being concise is also essential
  • Creative and critical thinking – That magical combo of imagining, evaluating, analyzing, understanding and remembering
  • The concept of data – Data is going to exist in most industries, not just science and technology ones. And often you can’t really ‘see’ it, but you have to be able to understand it.
  • The importance of knowledge sharing – these kinds of cognitive STEM skills allow kids to leave their ego at the door – there’s no one answer that’s “right.” Finding the solution is the most important thing, and we allow students to collaborate in a healthy way – like they’ll need to do in their future job.

The Future of STEM Literacy

There are a lot of confusing statistics flying around. For instance: “85% of jobs will be new by 2030 – we’re trying to teach for things that don’t exist!”

These figures aren’t statistically robust in that they don’t have a reliable base. But we do know that jobs will change to some extent because of automated technology, which will replace repeatable tasks.

This isn’t doom and gloom. It’s exciting. It means that the students we’re teaching STEM today will have jobs that are creative, engaging, and highly stimulating!

As long as we’re teaching them those transferrable cognitive skills, they’ll be able to apply them to create solutions that we can’t conceive of today. They will also be more likely to work in industries that are of interest to them. The notion that someone who learns science will be a scientist will no longer be relevant.

STEM will exist in just about every industry.

Here’s to the Future:

The students we teach today will connect, enhance, and repair our world in the 2030s and beyond.

They’ll live in a world that needs more housing and food. A world that needs much better solutions to the changing climate. And with the new lessons we incorporate into our STEM curriculum, we help students develop the skills needed to build:

  • Smarter cities with a better quality of life for everyone – including some overlooked sectors, like the elderly or disabled.
  • Construction that is eco-friendly and allows for economies of scale to ease population pressure.
  • Agriculture that is sustainable and meets the world’s food needs.
  • Healthcare that identifies and prevents disease.
  • Better disaster relief that is people and community-centric.

These are solutions that will require massive amounts of creative and critical thinking, not just those technical skills.

Watch This Space!

As we move into the next decade, we are continuing to commit to helping teachers like you reimagine STEM for your students.

We’ve got a clear goal in mind: the classroom resources and support we continue to provide will help you boost STEM literacy in your classrooms and allow you to focus on what you do best – teaching it!

We have exciting new things on the horizon.

Early in 2020, we will be releasing new products and STEM education resources that we can’t wait to share with you. You can also read our article about tips for developing quality STEM programs here.

Until then, have a restful and enjoyable break – you all deserve it – we’ll see you next year!

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