The 21st century will be defined by how we confront big, uncharted challenges, from health to the environment, finance to agriculture. To address them, our world needs a new generation of problem-solvers. Yet too many of our country’s children never get the science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) learning they need to become the problem-solvers of tomorrow. This deprives our labs, hospitals, board rooms and universities of talent and denies all of us the breakthroughs these students could be making.
“Too many of our country’s children never get the science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) learning they need to become the problem-solvers of tomorrow.”
Where the U.S. stands
Our schools struggle in STEM: 40 percent of all students test at or below basic levels in math; in science, it’s 50 percent; and by 12th grade, only 16 percent of students are both math proficient and interested in a STEM career. Fewer than 15 percent of high school graduates have enough math and science to pursue scientific/technical degrees in college.
The impact of STEM
Through the late 1990s and 2000s, the numbers of natural science and engineering doctoral degrees awarded have declined or remained stagnant in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Germany. Doctoral degrees awarded in these subjects in China, South Korea and Japan, however, continue to rise.
Quantity of math and science courses does not always equal quality. Data show a significant number of unqualified teachers teaching high school science: 63 percent of physical science teachers, 45 percent of biology/life sciences teachers, 61 percent of chemistry teachers and 67 percent of physics teachers lacked degrees or certification in the subjects taught in the 1999-2000 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
By 2018 we will need 22 million new college degrees, but will fall short by at least three million post-secondary degrees, Associate’s or better. We will also need at least 4.7M new workers with post-secondary certificates.
Together, we can give our children the STEM learning that will enable them to grow our economy, discover new cures, solve old mysteries and address the most pressing challenges of tomorrow.
In the face of these long odds, there are efforts afoot that give us hope. The Common Core Math standards have been adopted by 45 states and Washington, DC, and are being implemented around the country. 26 states have joined together to develop Next Generation Science Standards. Heeding a call from President Obama, more than 150 leading organizations have come together to fulfill the need for 100,000 excellent STEM teachers as part of 100Kin10, an effort coordinated by Carnegie
Corporation of New York. Google and The Broad Institute are supporting the creation of a STEM master teacher corps, and Citizen Schools is guiding an effort to inspire one million STEM professionals to volunteer in meaningful ways in schools across America by 2020.
Making a difference
Together, these efforts and others will give all our children the STEM learning that will enable them to grow our economy, discover new cures, solve old mysteries and address the most pressing challenges of tomorrow.
Find a way to lend your hand. Volunteer. Teach. Learn. Our country needs everyone’s creativity and ingenuity if we’re to send forth the next great wave of American scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs.
By: Talia Milgrom-Elcott