July 4, 2022

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What is STEM Education and Why It Is So Popular?

Today’s companies need creative people with a broad outlook, a love of innovation, and developed flexible skills. What does STEM have to do with it, and how this new approach to education can solve the problem of the lack of qualified personnel.

What is STEM?

The U.S. National Science Foundation employees invented the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) in the early 2000s to designate a new educational trend to fill the lack of technical specialists in the country. Since then, STEM development has become a part of U.S. public policy and spread worldwide.

STEM education is available at leading universities in the U.K., Switzerland, Germany, Singapore, Japan, and others.

The disciplines are taught in terms of their connection to each other. This makes it possible to view and solve problems more comprehensively and globally, rather than piecemeal, relying on only one area.

There is an ongoing debate among experts about what else is and is not included in STEM. For example, the field of science sometimes includes medicine, psychology, and pharmaceuticals. It wasn’t until 2019 that architecture was recognized as a STEM specialty within engineering. There is also much debate about whether economics, political science, and social science should be included in STEM.

STEM values and principles:

Interdisciplinarity. Combining disciplines into a single system, finding common ground.

Creativity and innovation. To solve modern problems, theoretical knowledge is not enough – you need to be able to create new methods, generate ideas, and look for ways to implement them in practice.

Critical thinking. The skills of taking nothing for granted, constantly checking and analyzing information.

Putting knowledge into practice. The learning material is absorbed better if the new knowledge is immediately applied to solve applied problems.

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Project form of work. In many STEM majors, a large part of the curriculum consists of practice and projects. For example, in some programs, the work on the diploma is combined with an internship, during which students solve real cases from a partner company. Students gain relevant knowledge and experience, while companies gain fresh ideas to solve their tasks and potential employees.

Social and cultural barriers to women in STEM:

The growth in the number of women in technical occupations has slowed in recent decades. In 1970, they held 8% of STEM jobs; by 1990, that figure had risen to 23%. But in 30 years, it has only increased by 2%. By 2020, only 25% of women will be working in STEM occupations.

This is because women face social and cultural barriers that make STEM careers less attractive.

Gender stereotypes begin to affect women very early on.
As early as 2nd grade, girls tend to believe that they are not capable of math. Throughout their educational journey, they encounter underestimation of their abilities. This demotivates them and causes them to abandon the idea of a STEM career. However, girls have even more significant potential to succeed in technical fields. According to the National Assessment Educational Progress study, girls’ ability to solve engineering problems is 3% better than boys.

Salary differential. The average salary for men in STEM is $90,000 per year, while women earn 26% less at $62,200 per year. This is mainly because they initially choose lower-paying professions. For example, there are more female nurses and pediatricians in medicine than surgeons and dentists.

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Lack of role models. “Girls have far fewer role models because of the low representation of female scientists in media and pop culture. There are also few female professors and research supervisors, which decreases the confidence of future female students in their abilities,” – says Nellie Burges and Jason Monaki, professional paper writers and education experts.

Why STEM education is in demand?

The main focus of many large companies is digital technology and innovation. They seek to apply the achievements of BigData, artificial intelligence, and machine learning in other areas – education, healthcare, and banking. Specialists who understand the technology and how it can be applied to solve specific tasks in different regions are the undisputed leaders in the labor market.

Employers highly appreciate the skills that students acquire in STEM specialties. According to the World Economic Forum, the essential skills for modern business are integrated problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

The growing demand for STEM specialists on the part of companies from various fields has led to a personnel crisis. The National Science Foundation suggests that 80% of the professions available in the next decade will require applicants to have mathematical skills and technological knowledge.

Why you should choose STEM?

Do you have an aptitude for biology, chemistry, physics, or programming? Of course, you should choose STEM first if you are interested in its disciplines.

Also, many majors require students to be confident in math and logic.

You are interested in new technologies. Technology is at the core of STEM professions. You don’t just need to understand them but know how they can be improved and adapted to suit a particular purpose. About the role of modern technologies, you can also read here.

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You want more career prospects. Graduates of STEM professions are in demand in the labor market and receive higher salaries than representatives of other professions. If you’re going to make a good living right out of university, STEM fields can help you do just that. Also, some majors have the opportunity to get a job with a partner company right after graduation.

You want a profession that is nationally valued. The urgent need for technical specialists encourages the federal government to support and develop STEM education. The U.S., for example, grants extended visas to students in STEM fields, provides scholarships, and develops university partnership programs with high-tech companies.

You love to learn. If you choose to pursue a career in STEM, you will have to study your whole life. Technical skills quickly become obsolete, and professionals need to retrain to actively adapt to the changing industry. According to a study by the National Research University Higher School of Economics, STEM specialists earn more at the beginning of their careers. Still, after a while, that figure begins to decline as rapidly as it did at the beginning.

You want to save the world. Uncrewed rescue helicopters, bionic prosthetics, vaccine development, and stem cell-based cancer drugs – STEM inventions do save the world. If you want to be a superhero, STEM education is your superpower.