Importance of STEM learning for jobs of the future

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By Sabrina Almeida

If you’ve lamented over how the arts/humanities stream is losing its shine, this column is not going to make you any happier. Judging by recent reports, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning is the best, if not the only, way forward. Researchers tell us that jobs of the future are likely to require these skills. Along with problem solving and “creativity”. Meaning resourcefulness, ability to generate ideas and think ahead.

The rapid advancement in technology which includes artificial intelligence and the looming threat of robots replacing humans in several areas, has many scratching their heads rather hard.

Like it or not, the future is already here. Computerized check-ins at the drive test centers are but a small indication of what is to come. Isn’t the idea of drones delivering your pizza rather exciting? So get ready for robots to take on several customer service functions including serving you in restaurants and drive-thrus.

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Eventually, we will accept and depend on the efficiencies of these machines to get us through the day. Just as we did with Siri (the Apple assistant) and Cortana (for Windows 10). Let’s admit it, some of us now prefer it to dealing with a real person.

The emphasis on STEM learning comes from the need to prepare for the future rather than resist it, or bury our heads in the sand and wait for the tide to sweep us away. Which jobs will withstand the test of technology by adapting to it is difficult to say. Moreover, some are of the opinion that new avenues will open up which we are entirely in the dark about right now. Focusing on STEM learning will somehow give the next generation a leg up.

I am very well aware of how interest plays an important role in choosing your academic and career path. I chose the arts because I believed I was not inclined towards science, math or technology. Time and exposure have changed my perspective. That’s what educationists are encouraging us to do with our kids. After all, art has a scientific, engineering, mathematical and now technological side to it as well. Digitization and digitalization have forced us to acknowledge that.

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The newspaper industry is a stellar example. My first days in a newspaper included manual page making which was done by a separate department. Today a single person can perform both writing and layout functions.

Most learning biases are handed down by parents and gender stereotyping. A South Asian mother admitted that her dislike for math was passed on to her son and affected his performance in the subject. Luckily, some extra coaching and the resultant good grades changed his thinking and preferences.

Similarly, gender-typing accounted for girls being a majority in the arts stream and boys in science, in my day. The issue at hand even today is more environmental than based on ability. A girl who tinkers with Lego and plays with dolls is less likely to limit herself when compared to the one who has never been given the blocks at all.

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A Harvard study on ‘biases that push women out of STEM careers’ revealed that ethnic stereotyping, perceived work-life balance and a preference for male hires (even when women were hiring) were some of the main reasons. What would make a big difference? Role models!

Exposure is everything as is keeping an open mind to all types of learning. Both educators and parents must first develop an understanding of STEM learning themselves in order to support their students and kids.

The fact that half of all Grade 6 students in Ontario did not meet the provincial math standard this year, (continuing a steady decline in test scores over the past seven years) is a clear indication that the education system is not preparing kids for the future.

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