To Stay Competitive, All US Students Need Reading, ‘Riting and Science
NEW YORK CITY - It may have been preaching to the choir, but it was a sermon about how the choir needs to give more singing lessons to the tone deaf. Speaking before a crowd from the New York Institute of Technology last night, IEEE-USA president Evelyn Hirt outlined a new problem facing U.S. competitiveness: science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy.
Unlike the widely circulated -- but mostly false -- rumor that the U.S. faces a shortage of scientists and engineers, Hirt said the U.S. faces problems from a lack of useful STEM knowledge in the non-STEM professionals. Thanks to a core educational curriculum that tells children STEM classes are only useful for students who want careers in STEM fields, today's lawyers, accountants and business people don't have the science skills to make informed decisions in a world dominated by technology, Hirt said.
"[America] is marginally STEM literate. We've couched STEM literacy in the specific, not the general," Hirt told TechNewsDaily. "If you're going to be a lawyer, STEM education is still important."
The core skills educators felt U.S. students needed before graduating from high school have not adapted with the times, Hirt said. As a result, the only students who enter college having passed basic STEM classes like physics or pre-calculus are students who intend to major in science or engineering.
There are a number of roots to this problem, including the difficulty of drawing STEM educators away from more lucrative careers in industry, the extra expense laboratory classes place on school systems that can barely afford regular classrooms for English lectures and a culture that emphasizes specialization over general knowledge.
To maintain U.S. competitiveness against countries that invest heavily in STEM education, U.S. high schools need to start producing students ready to major in any subject without taking additional classes. This is true of STEM students as well, Hirt said, who need literature, art and music training just as much as humanities leaning students need science classes.
"The days of us having the luxury of working in a vacuum are over. I can't just go off and live in my silo." Hirt said. "We can't be exclusive. It's like the 'three R's', except now it needs to be writing, reading and STEM."