Monday, February 8, 2016


STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths and is a curriculum for
educating US-students in those four disciplines for an application in the real world. When I read the acronym the other day for the first time the idea came to me that in the US studies of humanities would now be neglected compared with technical sciences.

The idea of supporting SMET as STEM was called previously is not new: In his State of the Union Address on January 31, 2006, President George W. Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative. Bush proposed the initiative to address shortfalls in federal government support of educational development and progress at all academic levels in the STEM fields.

Last year President Barack Obama took up the subject: Science is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world ... He is right when saying that STEM qualities are needed for solving problems in a science-orientated economy. However, for changing the world other qualities will be needed as well.

President Obama talking to STEM students (©USGov)
STEM does not mean specialization in one field. Already at the end of the 18th century the German physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote: Wer nichts als die Chemie versteht, versteht auch die nicht recht (Anyone who understands nothing but chemistry does even not understand chemistry quite). STEM means a cohesive training in all four subjects, i.e., a holistic approach. Only those who are comprehensively educated in natural sciences will assure America's global leadership. For a STEM-literate student is not only an innovator and critical thinker, but is able to make meaningful connections between school, community, work and global issues. A STEM-literate high school graduate can enroll in a college-level course of study in science, technology, engineering, and math without the need for remediation.

In addition I read: We also know that only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. The United States is falling behind internationally, ranking 29th in math and 22nd in science among industrialized nations.

There is general agreement in the US that the tracks to STEM must be laid already in primary school for educating a sufficient number of STEM-literates. What is missing are good teachers being able to make STEM attractive to their students. The quality of educators is the key factor whether pupils and students become interested in STEM subjects. In 2014 the Federal Government spent 3.1 billion US$ in STEM education. A STEM Education Coalition demands:

STEM education must be elevated as a national priority.
Our nation's future economic prosperity is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields .
The U.S. must expand the capacity and diversity of the STEM workforce pipeline.

It seems that the money set aside for education in general will not increase. When I talked about STEM at the Stammtisch of the Freiburg-Madison Gesellschaft one participant confirmed that financial support for studies of humanities at the University of Madison, Wisconsin had been reduced. And lately Eva Moskowitz, the CEO and founder of Success Academy Charter Schools around New York City, talked about the problem of fitting everything she deems important for students - coding, recess, science five days a week - into the school day. As a solution she proposed the cutting of foreign languages.

Not only the US sees the danger of losing out on technology. The global competition does not sleep. Everywhere gaps open up. Until the year 2020 about 600,000 STEM-literates are missing in the US. In the UK the number is 100,000. When we look at the need in Germany, i.e., 210,000 we better take MINT (Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaften, Technologie) and rely especially for girls on Roberta - M├Ądchen erobern Roboter (Girls take robots by assault).

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