Why STEM must offer students a dose of reality

Yvonne Ng of St. Catherine University writes on the LearnMoreMN blog why hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses would be more appealing to women:

It’s not surprising that reality is important for females. The majority has not had these experiences as children so they need to have the time to play in reality. As adults, they learn more from this play in a shorter period of time, so a college course with planful “hands on” components can jumpstart a “disadvantaged” student.

It’s not just women who statistically lack these experiences with STEM reality: students from lower economic backgrounds often lack these experiences, and interestingly, we now find those from upper class backgrounds are equally lacking.

Read the full essay here.

  • Emery

     In the US, students suffer from a lowest
    common denominator approach to education. Because educators have been
    encouraged by parents and politicians to not segregate students by
    ability (no child left behind), most educational material has been made
    easy enough for 99% of the students to get through. That has two
    effects. First, getting top grades requires doing a great deal of easy
    work perfectly, rather than doing a moderate amount of difficult work
    well. This separates the industrious from the lazy, but many very
    bright but non-industrious students fall by the wayside (mostly boys).
    Second, it is impossible to cover all of the math and science that
    should be covered in high school while keeping it easy, so they don’t.
    At University, the top schools are populated by industrious
    brown-nosers who are very good at reproducing what teachers show them,
    but afraid of solving problems creatively. Students are ill-prepared
    for, and therefore terrified of, difficult STEM subjects. Many who do
    enter STEM programs drop down to easier fields. Many of the students
    capable of taking STEM courses never take them because their grades in
    high school were not particularly high.
    Schools at the primary and middle school level need to challenge
    students with difficult material, particularly in science and math, but
    also in teaching them to write effectively. High Schools need to start
    segregating students based on their capabilities, and challenging those
    focused groups. We don’t need 100% of students to learn more math and
    science, we need the 30% who will really use that knowledge to be taught separately and intensively to prepare them for STEM programs at
    University. We need students who aspire to high skill but
    non-university careers as technicians and high skill laborers to have
    clear career paths that start at 15 or 16.
    And above all, we need to stop telling students and parents that
    getting a bachelor of arts degree is the path to success and riches.
    Different educational paths lead to different careers and different
    salaries, and children and parents need to be told the hard truths,
    starting as early as age 12-14. The education establishment has
    responded to 50% of the population entering University by enlarging
    liberal arts programs and ill-defined but easy degrees like commerce and
    business while lowering standards. Governments need to wake up and
    understand that with such a large fraction of the population entering
    post-secondary education, public universities must make their primary
    mission job training, and they must carry out that mission cost
    effectively. Every university president tries to make their university
    into Harvard. All of the incentives for faculty and administrators are
    to pursue sexy research and provide creature comforts to students,
    rather than teaching valuable skills to undergraduates. We don’t need
    more Harvards. We need efficient low cost schools that churn out
    professionals with marketable skills. Not just STEM skills, although we
    need more of those. But any graduate who receives a degree but
    possesses no marketable skills has been cheated by the education system.