People hear about STEM and they think some harm has come to an embryo in the process, so for those who have misconstrued its meaning or have been spared the exposure to this concatenation of capital letters, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
With digitization colonizing the real world and our reliance on technology seeming irreversible, STEM graduates will definitely play a role in determining our future landscape. The national priority in education also revolves around STEM as popular discourse dictates that a country’s proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is vital in generating economic growth, advancing scientific innovation and creating good job opportunities. The highest number of STEM graduates is produced by China, followed by India and the USA.
Student’s enthusiasm for these fields rests on having a leg up in college admissions and the assumption that these fields are highly lucrative financially and career wise. This enthusiasm rests on half-truth as STEM is an expansive category spanning multiple disciplines and recent studies have made it increasingly apparent that the greatest numbers of high-paying STEM jobs are in the “T”.
The alarm raised by media that America is facing a worrying shortfall of STEM workers translates in reality as shortage in a relative handful of fast-growing fields like data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and computer security. When it gets generalized to all of STEM, it’s misleading. In a recent analysis, Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, forecasted that in the decade ending in 2024, 73 percent of STEM job growth will be in IT, but only 3 percent will be in the physical sciences and 3 percent in the life sciences.
Our obsession with STEM can have irreparable consequences for our society as it favors a narrow range of talents disfavoring students who are not wired in that way. In our push to teach the cold, hard, and rational, we should not forget the humanities. Arts and creativity are crucial to science and technology. They are the tool that allows technology to be usable in real life. The key to good design is a combination of empathy and knowledge of the arts and humanities. Musicians and artists inherently have the greatest sense of creativity. You can teach artists how to use software and graphics tools; turning engineers into artists is hard.
Tackling today’s biggest social and technological challenges requires the ability to think critically about their human context, which is something that humanities graduates happen to be best trained to do. So now other countries can take a leaf from the liberal arts tradition that is embedded into American higher education and add the “ARTS” and consider STEAM.
When Steve Jobs announced the iPad 2, he said “the DNA of Apple was the marrying of the technical with the liberal arts” – I think that’s the sweet spot.”
The New York Times