The emphasis on the academic subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, oft referred to as STEM for short, has long been regarded as the skeleton key to opening multiple doors for young people, in terms of prospective universities and employment.
However, is STEM really the yellow brick road that we envision it to be? Here’s how focusing on these sciences might constrict a young learner’s opportunities and world views.
Global news is rife with STEM retrenchments. Governments of past decades firmly backed STEM’s magic formula, which promised economic growth and development, along with high employment and quality of life. Funnelling young people into these faculties and fields of work, have inevitably culminated in an acute saturation. A high volume of STEM graduates and professionals competing for a meagre pool of jobs is, naturally, very sensitive to economic fluctuations. This is what has led to the frequent news reports of large-scale releases of employees in STEM sectors.
To add to these unpleasant findings, the Royal Academy of Engineering observed that racial minority STEM students are more likely to be in non-engineering jobs or unemployed six months after graduation. Recently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science also noted that female students are 50% more likely to leave their STEM course of study than male counterparts. These trends have created an even greater disparity in a work force that already comprises mostly males of high socioeconomic standing. A hardly inclusive sector, the high praise that STEM receives has demeaned the social standing of arts and humanities students.
You might have heard this before, but it bears repeating: Initiating young people into arts and humanities helps raise their EQ, hones their soft skills and raises their empathy, all of which are traits that count as much as, if not more than, book smarts when it comes to moulding a capable colleague and trustworthy employee.
The brutal nature of competing in STEM academic streams can cause long-lasting damage to a child’s self-confidence and will power. Slow learners and students with different preferred modes of learning are poised to be swept away by the unforgiving bell curve. On the flipside, a modern holistic education includes teaching a child resilience – education experts vouch that being able to pick oneself up after being knocked down, is a common trait among highly successful people.Introducing our young to a diverse array of subjects, wisdoms and out-of-classroom learning experiences is our best bet, in terms of grooming problem solvers and decision makers who can achieve success in whichever aspect of life they pursue.
For years, STEM has been a pool for young people who have yet to decide on what they would like to do in life – a pool that promised a plethora of opportunities. The steadily rising trend of young professionals finding jobs in industries unrelated to their field of study, is proving that this pooling is unwarranted. Parents, does your child feel happy and fulfilled in his or her area of study?
Arming one’s children with a variety of perspectives is the best way to equip them for the unpredictability of life, which is why schools have been gradually distributing academic weightage across a broader spectrum of subjects, because few problems only have one answer. On an international scale, investing in a spectrum of expertise sets the foundation for a socially and economically sustainable future.
Creativity, persuasion and collaboration were employers most desired soft skills, LinkedIn concluded in a 2019 study. 46% of UK employers surveyed thought it was a problem that their employees struggled with their own feelings and the feelings of others, while 56% of them shared that their staff lacked essential teamwork skills. Across the pond, a 2017 survey observed that almost all of the fastest-growing jobs in the US in the last 30 years have necessitated a high calibre of social skills.
In the same vein, a 2019 study by Glassdoor noted that eight of the top 10 best jobs in the UK involved high levels of communication skills and emotional intelligence, few of which were in STEM industries. Don’t equip young people with skills that Artificial Intelligence is capable of too, argues Amanda Ruggeri, senior journalist and editor with the BBC. “The world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory or spreadsheet,” Deborah K. Fitzgerald, a professor of history and dean of the MIT School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, notably told The Boston Globe. A proponent of MIT’s mission of preparing students for solving the world’s most challenging problems, Fitzgerald opined that while tackling global issues does require scientific knowledge and technical skills, solving imminent challenges like poverty, climate change and disease “are always embedded in broader human realities”.
STEM subjects and graduates will always be at the forefront of overall development, but now, more than ever, we need the Humanities to stand out. Literature, law, philosophy, languages, history, politics and art are necessary to face the challenges of this new decade as STEM is simply not enough.