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Students Need STEM Education for Modern Job Market

Many of the opportunities in today’s job market requires even entry-level employees to understand technology, and apply science and mathematics. Everything from composing music to taking retail inventory employs these elements. In order to prepare for today’s job market, students must learn about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in an integrated way, referred to as STEM education.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 8.7 million high-paying, STEM-related jobs will exist in 2018. From 2000-2010, STEM employment increased at a 7.9 percent rate, over three times the rate of 2.6 percent for non-STEM employment. Business leaders are concerned that there will simply not be a workforce ready to meet this demand. While engineering comes to mind as a STEM field, think about automotive repair, construction, design and forensic science as areas where STEM-related knowledge may have been useful in the past, but is integral in today’s world. Today, STEM opportunities exist for students with two years of college who earn Associate Degrees, or specialized certificates.

Another recent article from US NEWS and World Report states:

“STEM employment growth is outpacing the general economy by about 300 percent. And, over the next five years, the United States is expected to add as many as 1.3 million new STEM jobs… the average professional with a STEM degree earns about $78,000 annually – compared to the annual average wage for Americans of approximately $43,000. However… we simply aren’t producing the caliber of students needed to take these positions. And if current trends hold, it’s estimated that nearly a third of domestic STEM jobs could go unfilled.”

This is an alarming outlook, and requires us to change how we think about math and science education. If we are parents today, the education system that we went through provided “buckets” of content. We learned math in math class, science in science class. Engineering design was part of our lab experience, if we were lucky, and the major technological tool was a calculator. What STEM education represents is merging these topics into an experience for students that is more authentic, and arms them for a world in which technology is tightly interwoven into the fabric of life. At its best, STEM removes the question “Where will I ever use this stuff?” from the mind of the students.

Smartphones, laptops, big TVs, computerized cars, remote-controlled drone helicopters, and movies in 3D are staples of our modern experiences. This should mean our children and students are better with technology and STEM than their parents because they embrace it, and integrate it into the fabric of their lives.

At issue, however, is a great challenge: our system often educates students in science and math, and leaves technology and engineering out of the equation. In fact, it makes technology seem almost magical, and engineering as a task for a select few who work at places like NASA. We need an education system that ensures all students learn STEM.

We must retool our educational system to integrate subjects and teach a useful combination of skills and knowledge to make these jobs accessible to all students, even those who are struggling. I am always interested in comments from parents and encourage readers to post them here. Let’s have a conversation.

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Patrick Keeney

Patrick (Pat) Keeney, Director of College and Career Planning for HS Product Management, is a career educator who has spent time in the classroom, consulting, launching a company, and with K12. Pat has also been a learning coach many years, and has seen the K12 experience from that perspective. Although he is presently in Product Management, Pat served for almost 7 years as part of the K12 Product Development group where he was the lead instructional designer on many high school math and science courses, and helped in designing games like X-germz. Prior to his time with K12, Pat was a consultant at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and founded an online education company. He also spent 17 years teaching in classrooms in Maryland and Pennsylvania, teaching high school mathematics and science, primarily physics. Pat’s interests range from basketball, a sport that he played and coached, to chess. He finds that games are more than time wasting activities but are one of the best ways that people learn about and simulate the world of experiences.

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