“STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.” [Source: www.livescience.com]
The meaning and benefits of STEM education
Today, technology is a part of every aspect of our life. Consequently, applications of STEM can be found everywhere around us – from the construction of roads and bridges to combating climate change to mobile and internet technology as well.
By introducing children to the applications of Science and Mathematics in real life at an early age, it is possible to develop their interest in STEM, encouraging them to take up STEM-related jobs in the future. So, instead of focussing on rote learning, STEM learning programs are application driven to develop the analytical and problem-solving abilities of students from an early age.
We can summarise the benefits of STEM education as follows:
· Develop problem-solving capability
· Hands-on learning
· Better learning outcomes for students in STEM subjects
Need for STEM education in India
Rapid strides in science and technology have shaped our lives in the 21st century, making STEM skills extremely desirable in the workforce. It is a proven fact that careers in STEM are much more financially rewarding as compared to most other fields. In addition, research is the cornerstone of every technological innovation, and by exposing children to STEM education at an early age, it is possible to develop their interest in the subjects, enabling them to make smarter career choices in the future.
Unfortunately, despite the demanding times we live in, the educational system in India continues to be stuck in the past. Even today, there is a major emphasis on textbook learning and the knowledge of the students is considered proportional to the marks scored by them in year-end examinations.
Especially with PM Narendra Modi introducing the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the country is on its way to become a world manufacturing hub. This means the demand for STEM professionals is only going to increase in the future. Thus, it is the need of the hour to include hands-on learning in the curriculum, especially at K-12 level, to build the curiosity of the kids towards STEM subjects in a fun environment. Introducing exploratory and interdisciplinary STEM education from early stages of school curriculum would help meet this demand by promoting inquiry-based learning that will produce the innovators, thinkers, scientists and engineers of tomorrow.
STEM education in India
According to Census 2011 data, India has the largest number of students in the world at 315 million. Yet, the educated youth lack the requisite skills to meet the demands of the corporate world, largely due to inadequate teaching infrastructure and a system that stifles creativity and innovation by focussing more on marks. Today, less than one percent students in India opt for research-oriented courses, which points towards a grim future for the country. Adoption of STEM curriculum offers a viable solution to the issue, but a few challenges have been identified in its implementation:
· Lack of clear guidelines on how to implement STEM
· Shortage of qualified STEM teachers
· Lack of technological infrastructure
· Shifting the focus of educators from marks to innovation
Thankfully, steps are being taken to resolve this issue, with both government and private institutions facilitating special programmes for STEM education and research at school level and beyond. For example, the recently set up Indo-U.S. STEM Education and Research Centre in India offers a unique two-year program that trains Indian students to acquire world-class teaching skills at the undergraduate level. The centre is a result of the five-year partnership between OSU (The Ohio State University) and AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) under the Obama-Singh (now Indo-U.S.) 21st Century Knowledge Initiative award (2013-2017) to support faculty training of Indian postgraduate students in STEM disciplines [Read more here].
Besides, non-profit organisations such as India Stem Foundation have facilitated STEM learning for underprivileged students in India by setting up Robo Siksha Kendras in schools, many of which are funded by corporates as part of their CSR initiatives.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of government and private institutions, most schools at K-12 level today have some form of STEM programme. Closer to home in Goa, CIBA has set up a Think Lab in Manovikas School, Margao, where children are taught robotics in a hands-on and minds-on manner. Kids of all age groups are invited to explore, experiment, innovate and tinker with robotics, giving them an unmatched opportunity to learn the practical implementations of theoretical concepts and build their natural curiosity towards STEM disciplines.