For a recent article in a magazine, i got to thinking about the state of STEM education in India.
STEM education in our country is lagging behind due to various reasons. Our schools are not equipped with the right kind of labs and tools, curriculum is not current. Our teachers are not properly trained in the subjects they are teaching and there is a lack of interest generation in the minds of students and their parents. Yes there are centres of excellence all over the country but in general things are not good even in private schools, govt schools are a whole other matter.
STEM education needs to start early in school to build the interest and to capture the natural curiosity in children and channel it. Maths for instance, the foundation in the early years is very important for a sound knowledge. By the time the students are in grades 11-12 its too late to bridge the gap if the foundation was weak.
Stress on practical and experience oriented learning plans rather than theory based. Just today i saw a hilarious image that said "Another day has gone by … and i still haven't used Algebra". If the practice of rote learning of formulas etc doesn't change then neither will this thinking. Algebra is used is various ways, sometimes when people don't even realise they are using algebra. If you need to calculate the return on investment for an expense or justifying the need for a diesel vehicle over petrol, you need algebra. Yes these examples are not suitable for school but more suitable examples for real world issues can be found.
STEM cannot be learnt , it has to be experienced and understood so its principles can be applied. There should be a shift in the education from learning to calculate the square root of a number to why it needs to be calculated and what practical problems it can solve, the actual calculation can be done by computers.
STEM education is best done with an element of fun and games, so it keeps the students interested. Schools also need to do a lot of mentoring with the students and show them the importance of STEM education. Various studies have also shown that STEM education encourages the brain to innovate. So by encouraging STEM education we also hope to encourage students to push innovation.
A lot of the quality of education imparted is dependant on the quality of teachers, so if the teacher professional development becomes an important issue then it will have a direct impact on the students. The kind of teacher the student has usually has a major influence on the subjects the student chooses later in life and therefore the career. A students lack of interest in a particular subject or immense interest in another subject usually points to what the student feels about the teacher of that subject.
Getting the right teachers to be able to teach the STEM subjects and also be inspirational enough for the students to fall in love with the subjects is vital. A good STEM student will make a great STEM teacher so we should try and get some of the STEM graduates to become teachers even if for a temporary period.
Parents also need to be roped in and if they also become believers in the need for STEM education then their influence on the students is going to be vital. One of the challenges in imparting STEM education is to be able to convince people of the importance of STEM for everyone and not just science students.
Due to a very poor rating in the PISA study, we need to give extra emphasis to these subjects so our nation remains competitive in a global scenario. STEM promotes research and development and as a nation we need to push that to create innovation and intellectual property which is something we severely lack as a country.
There is a huge need for professionals in the STEM based careers so it highly likely for someone with a good STEM education to land a job as against one who doesn't. Career growth is also faster in STEM based jobs which are also usually higher paying than non STEM based jobs. Most of the fastest growing industries are those that require STEM based skills in their employees. So a focussed STEM push will help reduce the unemployment in the country and boost the economy.
Regardless of the careers picked by students in the future, STEM education promotes analytical thinking and problem solving for real world issues, it helps one understand the world around us. For example in the rural environment people are more likely to build proper toilet facilities if they understand hygiene and how it effects the human body. Science education also encourages the use of medicines and reduces the belief of superstitions.
There is barely any avenue left where technology has not penetrated. The use of technology has become a basic need. Private sector aside, even to avail of government schemes most of the information is disbursed electronically and also the transaction process is gradually becoming electronic.
Todays children think and learn differently, we cannot use the same teaching methods and infrastructure of yesterday to be effective and relevant. So the biggest challenge is to overhaul our entire education system to be able to teach the learners of today and tomorrow.
Just my 4 cents.