There are few areas of our lives in which science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) don’t play a key role. There is an increasing number of areas in which our activities are becoming more reliant upon the tools of our digital age. As this continues, it is important to introduce children to STEM concepts from an early age.
While once there was a reluctance to bring too much technology into the classroom, today, this use of advanced tools to support STEM ideas is an essential component of any curriculum. Alongside the arts, STEM subjects are explored not just as a path toward academic advancement but as the skills today’s kids need to successfully navigate the adult world they’ll be stepping into.
Let’s take a closer look at how STEM in schools sets children up for their future careers.
Embracing digital nativeness
One of the primary benefits the current generation of children has is their digital nativeness. The fact they’ve been born into this landscape means there hasn’t been a time they’ve not been surrounded by the tools of the digital age. As a result, they are generally more comfortable with current technology.
From a future career standpoint, teaching STEM from an early age helps make sure children can use these tools in more than a personal capacity. It also gives them the knowledge to develop a professional relationship with STEM that is bolstered by their digital nativeness.
Currently, this includes introducing children to practices that are becoming a feature of the employment environment, particularly where it relates to remote work. The advances in cloud-based applications have helped make the everyday processes of education more collaborative, accessible, and flexible. Wherever students happen to be studying STEM — in the classroom, on field trips, or from home — they have access to the resources of the physical classroom. By understanding how these tools function from a practical and theoretical standpoint, students can utilize them more effectively in the workplace and apply them in innovative ways.
One of the other important roles of STEM in helping children embrace their digital nativeness in their careers is understanding the human component. These subjects don’t just teach the function of tools and ideas but how human ingenuity in collaboration with these tools makes them more effective. For instance, activities that introduce computational thinking help students understand that to use a technological tool effectively, they have to understand the components of the problem to find the most appropriate solution.
Read more: Why should teachers encourage Computational Thinking?
Engaging with tools of the future
Perhaps more so than at any other time in recent history, educational establishments have access to the STEM knowledge and tools that will be increasingly important in the future of our workplaces. We see in real-time the linear development and implementation of advanced ideas. The ability to introduce these to children in a theoretical and hands-on way in the classroom helps them become better prepared for the future technologies that are likely to become standard when they enter employment.
The most prevalent examples at the moment are machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). Our increasingly data-rich world is helping to make it practical to engineer software that uses algorithms to assess, learn from, and act on information with minimal human intervention. This is, of course, creating a growing marketplace for careers for machine learning engineers who design, build, and maintain such tech.
However, even beyond specialism, introducing children to the STEM concepts behind such technology will still be relevant in other careers. AI and ML software is becoming a part of everyday operations everywhere, from the logistics industry to medical diagnosis. By getting students used to the presence of this software — when designing their own chatbots or discussing the presence of algorithms in common tools like YouTube — schools are preparing children for the future of employment.
Read more: 6 Resources for teaching about Artificial Intelligence
Meeting the skills demand
There is an increased focus at the moment on whether schools and universities are providing students with work-ready skills. This is, of course, an extremely subjective area, depending on both the needs of the student and the demands of a changing workplace.
However, we can be relatively certain that STEM prepares children for future careers by giving them the knowledge to help address the growing skills gap in the U.S. This gap is evident across industries, and much of the deficit surrounds technical STEM-supported abilities.
This gap is somewhat less pronounced in information technology (IT) roles but is particularly evident in areas such as manufacturing, where it is expected to cost the economy $2.5 trillion over the next decade. Even in areas such as customer service, the STEM skills needed to function are not always in place before employment. In making these principles a core part of education from an early age, schools can ensure children understand the principles behind the tools they’ll be using no matter what industry they choose to enter.
Alongside meeting the economy’s needs, a STEM curriculum can be instrumental in lighting a passion in students that can encourage them to be proactive in developing and using these skills. The ability to explore tools like 3D printing and drone technology in class can ignite their curiosity. Indeed, ensuring that the knowledge, tools, and jobs are accessible to a more diverse range of children can not just help bridge the skills gap but also address the gender, racial, and mobility inequalities in science and technology.
Read more: 3D printing, drones, and AI — The future of STEM education?
Introducing children to STEM concepts and tools can be a way to prepare them for the future of the workplace. Exploring practices to embrace their digital nativeness and helping them engage with the common tech elements of many industries can ensure they are well placed to be productive contributors. Not to mention that STEM education may well be instrumental in helping to address skills gaps. We live in a time when these fields are present in various facets of our society, making it imperative to ensure children understand how to use them responsibly, creatively, and with enthusiasm.
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Charlie Fletcher is a writer and former preschool teacher from the lovely “city of trees”, Boise, Idaho. When not writing, she can be found exploring the great outdoors or geeking out over the latest Game of Thrones fan theories.