By 2018, America will need to fill 1.2 million jobs in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). But this demand will surpass our supply; simply not enough college graduates will be qualified to fill these positions. Our nation’s high school students are lagging behind other countries in necessary skills for theses fields, ranking 25th out of 31 countries in math performance. Interest in STEM fields is low; in fact, only 233,000 out of 3.6 billion end up pursuing a STEM degree in college.
Many propose that we go about this problem by inspiring students to pursue careers in STEM fields. About two years ago Al Gore hosted on a global online town hall “Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation,” hoping to build excitement and spark student interest in STEM related careers. Others, including myself, have proposed that we inspire by increasing hands-on, interactive learning experiences in the classroom to boost STEM popularity.
But from my own personal experiences through schooling, and as I read more and more about the topic, I’ve come to realize that there is a relationship between one’s passion and one’s belief in their capabilities. An example shall we? I love to run; it is my passion. And hey, I just so happen to have a talent for it. Coincidence? Perhaps. But there’s no doubt that many people enjoy doing things they are good at (we like to feel good about ourselves don’t we?) and many people tend shy away from things they are not good at.
Keeping this point in mind, as we try to solve the STEM dilemma I think it’s important that we instill not just passion, but arm students with the necessary skills and confidence. I have a passion for art, but I never pursued the field because, to be honest, I did not think I had the skills or the talent; I was afraid of failure. I believe this is what we need to prevent if we want kids to pursue STEM degrees and careers. We need to let kids know that it’s okay to fail and make mistakes, and our educational system needs to reflect that attitude.
How can we do this? I don’t think we need to abandon our whole grading system; we just need to make some minor tweaks. After getting a poor grade on a math test, a hard-working student may feel defeated, fostering a negative attitude toward math, leading them to shy away from pursuing the field. But what if teachers intervened by reaching out to the students (more than they already are) who are having a hard time in math in science? By offering encouragement, tips, advice, and tools and resource to access from home, perhaps we can avoid the “I hate math” attitude.
Sometimes all students need is a little faith, trust and pixie dust.