Learners find it increasingly difficult to appreciate science subjects in isolation because they are mostly unable to relate the concepts with adequate instances from their experience. Moreover, all the fields of science are developing by leaps and bounds aided by their interrelated nature. However, students are force-fed concepts within subject-specific boundaries even today. The use of science in our daily lives is also of an integrated nature, such as the use of microwave ovens and that of laser technology for surgical purposes, which creates the need for future education in science to be interdisciplinary. The rise of jobs in interdisciplinary fields such as marine and petroleum engineering, aerospace engineering, nuclear engineering, nuclear medicine technology and so forth, has also contributed to the need of an organized integrated science education like STEM education.
What is STEM?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is an experiential learning approach to science, which emphasizes the application of concepts to real-life situations. It can groom the next generation to meet the needs of the industry – problem-solving and the development of quick and cost-effective solutions. The core content of STEM education includes robotics, information systems, free open source software, new technological applications, electronic appliances, and engineering design processes used in a transdisciplinary platform along with the basic concepts of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and information and technology.
How is STEM education beneficial?
The primary motive behind STEM education is to encourage careers in science and technology to meet the challenges of the modern world, such as global climate issues and the rapidly rising numbers of genetic diseases. India has a long way to go in terms of economic development compared to other developed and developing nations, and the best way to do it is to improve the problem-solving skills of the younger generation from an early age. Learners need to be organically linked with the problems of the country and guided towards creating scientific solutions.
Here are some reasons why STEM education is beneficial not only to students pursuing careers in science but also to the younger generation who could be taught to solve any problem in a scientific process:
STEM education is a research-backed curriculum built on the principle of 5 Cs — Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Career-readiness. Critical thinking enables students to think out of the box while solving problems; creativity enables them to come up with solutions and become innovators; communication and collaboration help them learn to work in teams; career-readiness ensures the preparation for the right job at the end of the STEM curriculum.
Information Technology Literacy and IT Fluency
STEM education ensures Information Technology Literacy and IT Fluency — students become adept at coding with the help of advanced programming applications where they do not have to memorize syntax. This serves the dual purpose of being creative and IT fluent.
The incorporation of real-world scenarios ensures that the students can relate the concepts taught to examples from their own lives and hence, find learning more interesting.
STEM education consists of a spiral curriculum, which ensures revisiting concepts throughout the curriculum so that the students can remember them and utilize them according to their needs.
- STEM education ensures the interconnection of technology and mathematics with other subjects.
- STEM education is the pathway to well paid, high tech jobs.
What are the STEM courses?
All K–12 courses in science and math courses in secondary and higher secondary school include components of the STEM. They usually include exercises, labs and activities based on STEM disciplines such as Forensic Science, Environmental Science, Computer Science and Programming, Engineering Fundamentals and Designing, Robotics, Behaviour Management and Communication Skills.
College-level STEM courses
College-level STEM courses usually include Agricultural Sciences, Civil Engineering, Forensic Science and Technology, Geology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Nuclear Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Mining Technology, Nuclear Medicine and Technology, Military Applied Sciences, Marine Engineering and Animal Sciences.
Common problems with the implementation of STEM education
A major problem with the implementation of an integrated science education in most schools in India is the lack of funds and thus, the infrastructure required. Students are also habituated to the exam-centric learning and therefore, rarely possess skills required for the industry or development of the nation. Furthermore, the issues of race and gender often become a hindrance to the overall improvement of the STEM skills of the society.
STEM education for a problem-free future
STEM skills ensure the foundation for a holistic development of learners by helping them find solutions for the problems of everyday life and the society at large.
For example, the GARBOT (Garbage Robot) made by some students in India has aided in solid and liquid waste management through an automated bin, which can collect twice the garbage in a normal bin with the help of an electric compressor. This is a cost-effective solution for the health hazards faced by the society and is also in sync with the Swachh Bharat Mission.
We can also take the instance of Saarang Sumesh, India’s youngest robot maker, who recently created a smart seat belt that automatically senses when the vehicle meets with an accident. It can also sense fire and water and release the belt quickly to prevent greater danger because of seatbelts not opening on time.
STEM education programmes in India
- The World Robotics Olympiad India was started by India STEM Foundation in collaboration with the Government of India to foster interest in robotics learning in India.
- Next Education, a pioneering education solutions provider, offers Next-RoboTricks, a regional level robot-designing championship programme for solving challenging problem statements. It encourages originality and innovation through competitive learning and provides a nation-wide platform for young roboteers to meet other robot enthusiasts and experts.
- The Atal Innovation Mission was started by the Government of India with the help of India STEM Foundation to incentivize the establishment and promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship at various levels of education. It has set up the Atal Tinkering Labs for classes 6-12 to acquaint the students with cutting-edge technology.
- The Government of India has started projects such as the Make in India, Digital India, New India and Skill India to promote STEM education through STEM jobs, which are increasingly becoming predominant in the industry.
- There are several collaborative programmes between India and countries such as the US, the UK, and Australia. They have come up with STEM projects like the Atlanta based Indo-US STEM Academy, the UK India Education Research Initiative (UKIERI) and the ACER India programmes by Australian universities.
STEM education programmes in the US
STEM education in the US is more organized and developed than most countries because of their access to advanced infrastructure and clear guidelines on holistic education. The US government has developed several programmes such as the American Competitive Initiative, the Global Challenge Award ITEST Programme, the NASA STEM Programme, the eCybermission and the STARBASE programmes for the benefit of students. The STEM Education Coalition and the National Institute for STEM Education aid teachers in developing STEM teaching skills.
Popular STEM activities
STEM activities are designed to make science educational, exciting and inexpensive for children. Here are some ways to encourage experimentation, observation, exploration, problem-solving and creativity in the younger generation:
- STEM academies focus on Project-Based Learning (PBL), a dynamic classroom approach that requires active exploration, real-life problems, and their possible solutions. It also focuses on Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) which engages students in designing and conducting their own experiments, which eventually leads to solving a particular problem. Therefore, science and robotics labs have been set up by several organizations to encourage learners to apply scientific knowledge to practice. These labs focus not only on the experiential learning of science but also on the development of problem-solving skills.
- Outdoor activities are designed with an aim to improve group-working skills, problem-solving skills and communication skills where students are usually given real-life situations in workshops and camps, which increases their critical thinking abilities.
- Real-life simulations, with the help of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, are aimed at the promotion of interest in engineering from an early age to bridge the gap between a technology-user and an innovator.
- Micro-science kits are made available to the children which enable them to conduct scientific experiments at home under the supervision of parents.
- Miscellaneous activities like excursions to science museums, science exhibitions, and science fairs also help fulfill the aims of STEM education.
- Schools can also invite parents who are scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and psychologists and involve them in organizing outdoor activities. This way, the parents can synchronize the needs of the children and the future industry.
- Video game-based learning is also becoming a popular way to engage students in STEM skills, for it includes challenges based on real-life scenarios, which would motivate their problem-solving abilities.
STEM teacher-training programmes
There are both government and private organizations that provide STEM training to teachers, mostly through online courses, such as the India STEM Foundation. Most of the collaborative STEM projects of India with foreign countries involve workshops for teachers before the introduction of STEM curricula in schools and colleges. Non-profit organizations like STEM Revolution and STEM Learning conduct Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for them to become able facilitators of the learning experience. They also provide structured models for individual subjects that can be directly implemented by teachers in their classes.
How can parents help?
Parents also play important roles in promoting STEM education within the sphere of their homes. Home is where a child would be most influenced when it comes to future career choices. STEM skills can be induced by parents in their children by encouraging their curiosity and research skills by not giving them direct answers but by motivating and guiding them to search for answers themselves. It will be helpful if the house is made STEM-friendly so that the child has opportunities to develop STEM skills at home. Discussions on interesting developments in science via relevant TV programmes can direct the household towards a STEM lifestyle. Most importantly, developing their own curiosity and enthusiasm for science and technology will be the greatest motivator for the child’s interest in the STEM.