If you’ve paid any attention to education in the past 20 years, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. But what is it about STEM that makes these topics so important for kids to learn? Is there something inherently virtuous about fruit fly studies, computer programming and tinkering with wires and electrical enclosures?
STEM is such a multifaceted and dynamic topic that it’s hard to quantify its value in a few sentences. Instead, it’s useful to explore the many different aspects of STEM and how each one interacts with the others to create more well-rounded and competent adults. Below, we’ll talk about seven of the top benefits that STEM education offers children.
STEM Helps Kids’ Brains Develop.
Children’s brains are always growing and changing, and those brains need to be “fed” with age-appropriate and intellectually stimulating challenges. Education experts have particularly emphasized the need for STEM education in early childhood to ensure that students are exposed to these key concepts during the years in which the brain develops most rapidly and expansively.
Early childhood is a time when kids’ brains are building an incredible number of synaptic connections—hundreds per second, in fact. By ensuring that kids participate in age-appropriate STEM activities during this critical period, parents and educators can help build the foundation for lifelong competence.
STEM Prepares Kids for the Jobs of the Future.
Many of the highest-paying and most in-demand jobs of the 21st century are STEM jobs. Some of the hottest STEM fields include software development, medical research and statistical analysis, but the sector is a wide and varied one that holds a great variety of disciplines and aspirations.
STEM education teaches both hard and soft skills that students will need in these jobs. At the most basic level, STEM teaches critical thinking and technical literacy skills that are applicable in nearly any field. And at the most advanced levels, upper-grades STEM courses teach skills like programming that can put a student directly on the path toward a high-paying job.
STEM Provides Socialization Opportunities and Builds Teamwork Skills.
STEM can be a source of fun group learning and joyous memories that last a lifetime. It also helps children learn to work well with others, divide up responsibilities and learn new skills from other people.
It’s especially important to learn STEM within a group context because many of the most important STEM fields require extensive collaborative work. Major scientific studies and breakout apps are rarely designed and executed by one person. They’re the product of a long and careful collaboration process between professionals. The sooner that kids learn these work methods, the better.
STEM Helps Create Engagement and Accomplishment in Students.
Kids need to feel successful, smart and engaged. STEM can provide all of these things through projects that challenge children to push their intellectual boundaries. There’s nothing like that “aha” moment when all of the concepts suddenly click, and it can be a crucial moment of accomplishment and personal development for young learners.
The hands-on nature of today’s STEM assignments is another factor in why they’re an essential part of intellectual health for kids. Activities like building a battery, growing a plant or writing a simple program provide a learning experience that textbooks and lectures often can’t match.
STEM Encourages Creativity, Problem-Solving and Adaptability.
STEM is all about innovation, experimentation and figuring out how to take risks in a smart and safe way. Those are skills that kids need to succeed in any context, whether or not it involves science and technology. Everyone from artists to inventors to chefs to doctors benefits from these concepts.
The problem-solving and adaptation skills that children can learn through STEM are especially important. By learning about STEM concepts like the scientific method, children learn new ways of tackling obstacles. They learn how to problem-solve using available resources and how to collect evidence to evaluate potential solutions.
STEM Encourages Resilience and A Growth Mindset.
The history of science and technology is the history of people who repeatedly failed and tried again. That tolerance for failure and revision is an inherent part of the scientific method, which is why STEM lessons are often inherently suited to building students’ resilience and perseverance through iterative development.
When a project doesn’t quite work as expected, a good STEM lesson will teach kids to analyze its failures and improve them. As Thomas Edison supposedly once said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” That’s a good mindset for anyone to have when tackling the inevitable setbacks and disappointments of life.
STEM Builds a Healthy Relationship with Technological Tools.
As technology continues to transform our world, it’s more important than ever that children have a solid grounding in how to use it. At the base level, STEM education should help kids develop a strong facility with the must-have tools of today like smartphones, spreadsheets and basic coding.
However, as kids grow up and technology continues to evolve, technological literacy will help people adapt to new technologies and help them identify what place these technologies should have in their lives. Understanding the way that the human brain works can help them overcome the addictive way that social media exploits it, while a basic knowledge of computer security will help them avoid becoming victims of cybercrime. Whichever technologies are on the horizon next, STEM education gives kids the tools to evaluate and work with them.
We all know that STEM education builds the people who discover new species on the seafloor or who spend all night bent over an electrical enclosure assembling a groundbreaking new device. But increasingly, we’ve learned that just about everyone benefits from strong STEM skills, and that’s ultimately why they’re so important for every kid to learn, no matter the career track they’re on.