The Inherent Fluidity of STEM Careers

Image: Getty / STEM Student Welding In Shop Class

Preparing Today’s Minds For The STEM Jobs Of Tomorrow

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Education reform continues to be fiercely debated, but one thing is clear: It’s imperative that leaders align K-12 classrooms with the growing demands of the future science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. What makes this task particularly challenging is that today’s youth will likely face challenges that the adults around them can barely imagine. We’re living in a precarious moment in human history in which some have argued that technology is so disruptive that productivity is outpacing job growth. Preparing the children of today to succeed in a completely different job market is a responsibility we cannot ignore — even though it may feel impossible to keep up with such rapid change.

Zeroing In On A Moving Target

Although the government officially recognizes hundreds of STEM degrees, simply choosing to study an existing field will not guarantee a young person a lifetime career. The very nature of STEM is that it’s always evolving as researchers and inventors build on past knowledge to spark innovation. In fact, the pace of change today is likely to affect all sorts of jobs we may think of as stable, from insurance writers and loan officers to seamstresses and referees. School-age children could see roles like tax preparers and library technicians disappear by the time they graduate. Artificial intelligence (AI) and increased automation stand to change the employment landscape dramatically, leading to fewer jobs that involve actual humans in the future.

On the bright side, there are also plenty of attractive STEM careers available today that were unheard of a decade ago. Mobile app developers, big data analysts and driverless car engineers are all up-and-coming roles in fields that only exist because of the endless forward march of human progress. This embodies the fluidity of STEM: As old technologies and related job opportunities fall away, new ones arise in their place.

Image: Getty / Drone Operator

 

Recognizing The Potential Of The Future Now

Within their short lifetimes, members of Generation Z have witnessed the rise of new technologies like next-generation batteries, blockchain, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles and nanosensors, all of which will spark new opportunities and change the job outlook around the world. According to Willis Towers Watson, more than 60% of children attending school today will work in a career that does not currently exist. This will likely result in new positions such as autonomous transportation specialist, human-technology integration expert, excess capacity broker and others we have yet to imagine.

Growing digital connectivity and the accessibility of affordable technology have democratized and redefined STEM careers. For example, social media influencers now play a vital role in today’s modern businesses by creating guerrilla marketing campaigns to promote goods and services. Many are also taking on roles such as in situ data scientist, focusing on analytics often collected using mobile devices and stored in the cloud. Countless jobs have arisen through companies and platforms such as Uber, Shipt and Upwork, which began as STEM experiments but now serve as gateways into the gig economy that may one day rival the size of our current workforce.

Image: Getty / Engineers Working In An Advanced Robotics Laboratory

 

Preparing Children For STEM Careers

Preparing students for future careers in STEM as well as for a workplace that emphasizes independence and flexibility is the major task ahead of anyone interested in education today. Though novel vocational opportunities are exciting, facing the changing future of work and preparing students for STEM careers means embracing new pedagogical approaches and developing curriculums that go beyond the basics of what is currently available. The task is two-fold: We must encourage the skills needed to keep up with the rapid changes happening around us while anticipating what the future will hold next.

To do this, it’s crucial to begin STEM learning as early as possible. According to King’s College London, children’s feelings about science and any career aspirations in STEM are formed before age 14 — that is, by the time they are in middle school. Getting children interested in and feeling positive about STEM will go a long way toward raising a generation that’s excited about excelling in these fields.

However, early STEM education must also be developmentally appropriate. For example, preschoolers and early elementary students should be encouraged to play and manipulate materials to develop scientific thinking. Researchers at Johns Hopkins point out that block play helps children develop spatial reasoning skills that are crucial in many STEM fields. STEM toys can be used in ways that encourage inquiry, experimentation and theorizing, which are the founding principles of the scientific method.

Image: Getty / STEM Students Building A Robot

 

As children mature, connecting STEM learning to real-world problems becomes key. Where once they were invested in building the tallest Lego tower, students might now be led to solve problems in school or at home by experimentation and applying ideas they’ve learned about in class. A revolutionary STEM education should focus on hands-on building and problem-solving rather than memorizing textbook material in order to engage students. Older students should also be explicitly encouraged to explore evolving career fields — both those that exist and those that may be available in another decade or two. While many students may enjoy STEM, they won’t consider a career path in it unless they know what’s available to them.

Building A Foundation For STEM Inclusivity

It should also be noted that early, robust STEM education has the power to transform equity in scientific fields. Though STEM education in its current form is not “culturally neutral,” committing to collaborative STEM learning during early childhood education can make high-paying careers in STEM fields available to everyone, regardless of gender, race or country of origin. Starting early means that all children are encouraged to see themselves as scientists capable of solving problems and designing inventions. STEM must be included in the educational standards that all children are expected to meet and no longer seen as something for only the most gifted or mature. When we make this shift, we will lay the foundation for STEM education that prepares all students for whatever the future holds.

“Moving Target: Preparing Today’s Minds For The STEM Jobs Of Tomorrow” was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on November 8th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg. “Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”

What Does It Really Mean to Give Students an Equal STEM Education?

Image: Getty / Teacher Helping Students in Robotics Class

Can we really achieve STEM education equality by giving everyone the same thing?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Language matters. This is especially true in the world of STEM education. The words we use to talk about the concepts, policies and content that underlie the education of a rising generation of global students truly have great import.

When we talk about giving students an ‘equal’ education, or an ‘equitable’ education, what are we really saying? How do these concepts differ from simply providing ‘an education’, and why must STEM education specifically pay attention to issues of equality and equity?

The answer is as simple as it is complicated. Excellent STEM education should be geared towards reaching all students across the globe, no matter their race, gender or country of origin.

To truly equip the next generation with the tools and skills needed to create innovative, durable solutions to the challenges of our modern world, we must build in systems and practices that ensure all students have access to quality education.

We must also, however, take a look at whether some students are starting just steps from the finish line while others haven’t even gotten to the racetrack.

Image: maroke/Shutterstock

Equality and Equity 101

For starters, are ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ the same thing when it comes to STEM education? Not quite.

A piece on the blog Think Inclusive provides an example that helps illustrate the difference between equality and equity in the classroom: “Students may see other students receiving supports, accommodations or modifications and feel wronged, not realising that the goal is for all students to work in their zone of proximal development.”

This example will be all too familiar to educators who deal with managing a classroom where differentiated instruction is the norm.

Sometimes shortened to ZPD, Vygotsky’s pedagogical concept of ‘zone of proximal development’ is a zone in which students can work with some guidance to move their skills beyond what they can do independently.

It is widely used as a framework for educators to support students with educational activities that help them move at a pace that is rigorous but accessible.

If two students have very different needs, then it certainly wouldn’t be equitable to provide them with equal assignments.

Rather, the educator has the responsibility to provide appropriate instructional supports so that students of all ability levels have equitable access to the learning objectives.

Another example, this one outside the realm of education, can also illustrate how approaches to true equity don’t necessarily mean that people receive the same services but, rather, appropriate services for their needs.

As noted in the 2017 European Commission report on gender equality, “in conflict-affected countries, displacement, economic insecurity and marred social networks lead to more unstable environments, increasing the risk of sexual violence. In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the EU has since 2004 supported the work of the Panzi Hospital in meeting the full spectrum of needs of survivors of sexual violence, and women with severe obstetric injuries.”

In this example, the response to the issue of gender-based violence is not to provide the same supports to men and women in an effort to provide equality to both genders, but rather to look at the distinct issues affecting women and provide supports that respond to those gender-specific concerns.

Moving beyond equality to true educational justice

So, how do educators, administrators and those tasked with instructional design help move students beyond a place of mere equality to true educational justice?

As a recent article by author Joseph Levitan in the American Journal of Educationexplains, “in contrast to equality and equity, a just education is focused on ensuring that each student has the opportunities to find, figure out, and develop their skills and abilities based on their values and their communities’ values … It is about seeing students as agents in their own education who have rights and inherent abilities.”

This means that crafting STEM programmes and policies should take the whole person into account, and that includes any barriers that students experience as a result of their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status and so on.

A 2016 report that examined the role of libraries in supporting STEM equity includes a literature review that summarises the barriers as well as possible recommendations for students from a range of protected classes.

For example, one citation notes a long list of supports that could help students from racial minority groups have more just access to STEM programming, which includes “summer bridge [programmes], mentoring, research and experience, tutoring, career counselling and awareness, learning centres, workshops and seminars, academic advising, financial support, and curriculum and instructional reform.”

Notice a trend? To provide equitable STEM education, many of these recommendations suggest enrichments that happen beyond the walls of the traditional classroom.

It’s clear that offering true equity in STEM education means that we must think outside of the box, and think about what true access really looks like for the students we serve.

If we rise to the task at hand, not only will we be doing the right and just thing for our planet’s youth, but we’ll also be looking out for our best economic interests in the long run.

The European Institute for Gender Equality has found a number of benefits to closing the gender gap in the STEM field.

Image: Getty / Happy Students

 

A recent summary of findings notes that “in monetary terms, closing the STEM gap leads to an improvement in GDP by €610bn to €820bn in 2050 … total EU employment would rise by 850,000 to 1.2m by 2050 … The new jobs are likely to be highly productive because women graduating from STEM often progress into high value-added positions in sectors such as information and communication or financial and business services.”

These are exciting times for progress, innovation and growth, and the actions we take today will have a major impact on our shared future. To succeed, we must bring all students along in our mission to create meaningful, dynamic STEM education — not just those who are already poised at the finish line, ready to take another lap.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on April 2nd, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Using Technology To Combat Intergenerational Poverty

Image: Getty /Happy boy on laptop and grandmother

Will technology help or hinder those less fortunate in future?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

The increasing use of technology in our society means that we’ll soon have a host of new potential solutions for some of our most persistent social problems. But we also must face the reality that technology might actually exacerbate some of these issues as well.

By taking a proactive, clear-eyed stance about both the benefits and potential drawbacks of increased access to new technological systems — including automation and artificial intelligence (AI) — we can begin to imagine a world in which humans ground all future digital advancements in a solid foundation of shared ethics and values. If we succeed at doing so, we may hold the keys to unlocking one of the most challenging social issues: intergenerational poverty. But if we are not careful, the very innovations we’re currently working on can actually doom our most vulnerable community members to an even steeper climb out of the cycle of poverty.

The Cycle Of Poverty (And How Technology May Accelerate Intergenerational Poverty)

When we talk about intergenerational poverty, we’re talking about a cycle that limits access to opportunity and social mobility. When families experience poverty and lack the tangible financial resources to change their situation, they may often have difficulty sharing skills or tools with their children for exiting the cycle. The stress of meeting basic needs takes all precedent in the family, and children learn that the only way to survive is to focus on getting basic needs met. Often times, people trapped in this cycle are forced to use all of their time, energy and resources on dealing with the significant challenges of meeting their immediate needs, never getting the opportunity to connect to longer-term resources.

As reported in The Atlantic, Dr. Elizabeth Babcock, the president and CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways (EmPath), explained that intergenerational poverty creates, “vicious cycles where stress leads to bad decision-making, compounding other problems and reinforcing the idea that they can’t improve their own lives.” So, can technological tools help people break this cycle and live better lives? Perhaps, but it’s important to note that technological advancements may actually reinforce these painful cycles.

The fears around automation are myriad: Workers are afraid of losing their jobs, and, as a recent article in The Verge made clear, the rise in automation may actually stymie workers who rely on entry-level jobs to boost their social mobility. The article reveals that studies suggest that the retraining made necessary by automation will be challenging for the working poor, while “individuals from wealthier backgrounds [will be] more able to do so.” However, those “with working class or poorer backgrounds [will be] far less likely to retrain after university.”

But Does Technology Also Hold The Key To Reversing The Cycle Of Poverty?

Despite the real concerns about automation and AI actually widening the equity gap, there is hope on the horizon as well. For starters, we can look to the 23 Asilomar AI Principles put forth by the Future of Life Institute in 2017. These 23 guiding principles can serve as an ethical foundation for integrating technology without leaving already-marginalized people behind. Highlights from this list include:

  • №14, Shared Benefit. “AI technologies should benefit and empower as many people as possible.”
  • №23, Common Good. “Superintelligence should only be developed in the service of widely-shared ethical ideals, and for the benefit of all humanity rather than one state or organization.”
Image: Getty / African children using a laptop inside classroom, Kenya

Technology is also already helping organizations and individuals, in concrete ways, build bridges to equity and access. A recent guidebook from Penn Stateexamines the ways in which technology can connect people across generations to help strengthen family and community ties, as well as overall health and wellness. The guidebook suggests that “Technology is being used in ways that build and nurture new relationships that contribute to new opportunities for learning and community engagement. One important theme noted by several respondents is how reducing digital exclusion can contribute to a reduction in social exclusion.” By reducing exclusion, people stuck in cycles of poverty can better engage with resources and support systems that provide access to opportunities.

In addition, technology is also helping to inform communities about better providing opportunities to people whose brains have literally been altered by the constant stress of poverty. Dr. Elisabeth D. Babcock, whose EmPath program is all about helping people break out of the cycle of poverty, said in a 2014 report, “Although brain science is just beginning to produce information on how social bias, persistent poverty and trauma affect executive functioning, many practical steps can be taken to apply this knowledge to improve policies and programs. Very little is known at this point about the actual impact created by such applications, but research suggests that the potential is great.”

Harnessing information about the brain to create more meaningful solutions for people trapped in intergenerational poverty is a concrete way in which technology can make a serious impact on this issue. Pursuing research and developing concrete digital systems that tap the great potential of humanity is what living in this new digital landscape should be all about. By creating and adhering to ethical principles designed to prevent a widening equity gap, then working to identify better ways for engaging people who are in poverty, we can collectively help children emerge from the cycle. When people are able to break free, they can then go on to be productive members of society who are more than capable of creating solutions to the problems that plague us today — problems that will become just a memory of tomorrow.

This story was orginally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on Sept. 6th, 2017


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…