Preparing Kids For The Jobs Of Tomorrow: Investing In STEAM Education – Forbes

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With the emergence of generative artificial intelligence, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about how AI and automation will eliminate jobs. I like to look at this issue from another perspective. These and other powerful, innovative technologies will also create a lot of jobs.

Both things can be true, but one thing is clear: careers in science, technology, engineering, and math will play a central role in the future of work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM occupations, which include life and physical sciences, are projected to grow 10.8% by 2032, more than four times faster than non-STEM occupations.

Yet, the U.S. is falling behind in STEM proficiency compared to other leading countries. In the latest Programme for International Student Assessment test for 15-year-old students, the United States ranked 28th in math, in the bottom half of economically advanced nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which oversees the PISA exam every three years. The U.S. fared better in science, ranking 13th. The 2022 PISA edition is the first to take place since the pandemic, and U.S. students saw a 13-point drop in their math results compared to the 2018 exam.

If our kids are not adequately prepared to take on the jobs for tomorrow, the U.S. faces challenges to its growth and progress. The STEM gap creates a shortage of skilled workers that employers will need to compete globally, especially as our society relies further on technology and science for innovation and success. The gap could negatively impact economic growth over the long term as well.

While STEM represents a dynamic set of fields, employers also recognize the value of creative thinking and soft skills to drive progress or create a new concept. There’s a growing push to integrate concepts and practices of the arts to deepen one’s understanding of scientific concepts. For example, tools such as data visualization help us understand complex sets of data. STEM has turned into STEAM.

For the U.S. to be truly competitive in STEAM fields, we need to build out a pipeline as early as possible of kids who are interested in pursuing these subjects. Tomorrow’s inventors, scientists, and software developers are today’s curious young children.

There’s a lot we can learn from other countries to transform our approach to STEAM learning. Germany, for example, is well known for its high-quality education system that gets children excited about science and technology at an early age. This goes beyond the increased implementation of computers, tablets, and smartphones in the classroom. Germany’s systematic approach has good lessons for the United States.

It’s Never Too Early

The Haus der Kleinen Forscher Foundation, or Little Scientist’s House, is a German non-profit that works nationwide to support STEM education at early childhood education and care centers and primary schools. It is Germany’s largest early childhood education initiative in STEM for children ages 3 to 10. The aim of the program is to strengthen children for the future, provide them with important skills, and enable them to act in a sustainable way.

Little Scientist’s House works with more than 200 local network partners, including municipalities, trade associations, science centers, museums, companies, and foundations. The German government provides professional training to educators through on-site workshops and free online courses. Exploration and inquiry are central to the learning process.

There’s growing evidence that very young children from all backgrounds learn important STEAM skills and habits of mind from everyday play and early learning activities, according to a report co-published by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America.

High-quality early STEAM experiences also can support children’s growth across areas as diverse as executive function and literacy development. They create a foundation for lifelong learning, whether it’s higher education or attaining vocational credentials

It Takes A Village

Germany has a rich scientific and engineering tradition that has created a strong industrial base. With increasing demand for a skilled workforce, the private sector closely collaborates with academia and policymakers in education efforts. This includes increasing the number of educators and subject specialists and increasing the presence of women in STEM professions.

Germany, like the U.S., has a gender gap in scientific and technology professions. In 2019, women represented 21% of new entrants in engineering, manufacturing, and construction degrees and 23% in information and communication technologies, according to the OECD.

The commitment of the private sector to STEM education is noteworthy. The Siemens Foundation, for example, works with governments and other stakeholders to implement education projects and networks that give children and young people hands-on experiences and promote creative thinking.

It Goes Beyond The Classroom

STEM education provides more than just knowledge. German students have the opportunity to participate in learning experiences that nurture skills needed to develop innovative solutions in the digital age.

Most of Germany’s highly skilled workforce has gone through the dual system of vocational education and training. The dual track includes classroom study in specialized trade schools and supervised, on-the-job work experience. Germany’s vocational schools partner with about 430,000 companies, and more than 80 large companies hire apprentices. Every year there are more than 500,000 apprenticeship positions available across all sectors of the economy and public administration. This dynamic approach to education equips students with real-world experiences before they enter the job market.

In the U.S., there are STEAM programs across the country that inspire children and give students hands-on instruction. Where there is an opportunity for improvement is systematic alignment and investment that helps connect disparate nonprofits, corporate initiatives, and government programs to create economies of scale.

It’s time for states to step up and identify specific areas where they can invest more, such as public-private partnerships on teacher externships, peer mentorship for younger employees, and collaborations between schools and employers for experiential learning. Preparing kids for the jobs of tomorrow will take a multifaceted approach that goes beyond traditional education methods.

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