6 Reasons Why Early STEM Education Matters

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For a long time, well-meaning conversations about the mythical left brain/right brain divide have skewed the way that many parents approached learning opportunities for their children. In truth, the common misconception that analytical skills and creative skills are mutually exclusive has been widely debunked by educators, and experts now say that instead of locking young students into rigid learning tracks, giving them access to a myriad of learning options yields many long-term benefits. Whether they show proficiency in the arts or lean towards all things technical, here are six reasons why an early introduction to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education can help kids flourish.

STEM Fosters Curiosity and Critical Thinking

Education in STEM subjects isn’t just about helping students prepare for future careers in STEM. When taught correctly, STEM subjects can help students hone their curiosity and problem-solving skills, allowing them to develop good mental habits that can be applied across other studies, disciplines and fields of interest. 

British science writer Robert Lewin, author of Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos, said, “Probably the most important skill that children learn is how to learn. Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.”

When it comes to critical thinking, STEM subjects can help students focus on logical thought processes, “skills that can be used throughout life to help them get through tough times and take advantage of opportunities whenever they appear,” said Stephen DeAngelis, founder and CEO of Enterra Solutions, an artificial intelligence and advanced mathematics platform.

Early Exposure Can Help Close the STEM Gender Gap

Despite some recent progress, many girls are still discouraged from pursuing their innate interests in math and science. The damaging “math is hard for girls” trope has long plagued education, leading many girls and women to be systematically tracked away from STEM education, thereby limiting their exposure and ability to pursue careers in these fields later as adults.

According to the American Association of University Women, women comprise only 28% of the STEM workforce and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. Gender stereotyping and lack of role models are just two reasons why the STEM gender gap exists—which has resulted in gender inequity among some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, such as computer science and engineering. 

The good news is that women are starting to make gains, both in STEM education, earnings, and careers, especially in life sciences, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many organizations are working to close the STEM gender gap, including a program focused on girls in STEM from NASA, among others.

STEM Subjects Encourage Engagement and Opportunity

In our quick-fix, short-attention-span culture, STEM subjects demand active learning, which in turn requires greater engagement, attention and focus. Research has shown that engaged students are motivated to practice higher-level critical thinking skills, and STEM education encourages engagement through project-based learning.

Before her passing in 2020, tech entrepreneur Leila Janah, founder and CEO of artificial intelligence data company Samasource, famously said, “Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.” STEM education can provide opportunities to students who may not otherwise have access to other educational breaks.

Collaboration Is Key to STEM

While some students prefer working solo and others are naturally inclined toward team projects, STEM education gives students of all sensibilities the chance to balance these dual impulses—but it especially rewards those who seek to collaborate.

When it comes to STEM subjects, rarely does a single person possess all of the answers. In most cases, innovation is derived from teams of people collaborating. Early exposure to the collaborative environment required in STEM can help prepare young students for the collaborative workplaces of their future careers.

STEM Can Help Normalize Failure

In a society that’s obsessed with winning, education in STEM allows students to confront and normalize occasional failure. The scientific method is rooted in experimentation, and any learning process that fosters thoughtful inquiry can sometimes result in a failed attempt. Resilience is built through the perseverance of trial and error, and STEM subjects allow students to test, learn, and grow.

In the words of philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates: “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

STEM Careers Are Leading the Future of the Global Economy

Guiding kids into future careers in STEM isn’t the only (or even primary) reason to expose them early to science, technology, engineering and math. But future-proofing their job prospects may be a useful side effect. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM careers are among the 10 fastest-growing jobs over the next decade, and many opportunities will focus on categories including renewable energy, data, and health care. Regardless of what careers kids may want to pursue in the future, a robust STEM education invariably helps prepare them for any path they may choose to follow.

—Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

 

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