Instead of sitting quietly at a desk with a pencil and notebook, schoolchildren are now encouraged to explore virtual ecosystems through an online game, build their own website, or propose and conduct an experiment. Technology and innovation are helping education become more interactive, engaging, creative, and hands-on in the 21st century, and improving literacy in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has become increasing important to prepare the next generation of America’s workforce. The STEM Education Coalition held a congressional briefing, in conjunction with the National Science Teachers Association, the Afterschool Alliance, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers, about improvements and next steps in advancing STEM education.
Panelists at the briefing discussed the critical need for teachers and educators to be “up to speed” on technology and how it helps today’s children learn. The briefing highlighted the importance of informal education and ways it can supplement formal education. This is especially important considering many schools lack sufficient STEM learning opportunities, and formal education only contributes to a small percentage of what people learn throughout their lifetime. Ms. Ellie Mitchell (Director, Maryland Out-of-School-Time Network) discussed the importance of better connecting formal and informal education experiences. Ms. Patti Curtis (Managing Director, Washington Office, Museum of Science-Boston) spoke of the benefits of interactive and innovative exhibits at museums. She also advocated for encouraging researchers to allocate part of their budget for public engagement. Attendees and panelists at the briefing agreed on the need for STEM literate citizens, especially for a workforce that is increasingly STEM focused. Mr. Dennis Schatz (Senior Vice President for Strategic Programs, Pacific Science Center) stated that it would be ideal if one day, “science is as pervasive as sports” in today’s society.
The Coalition also announced that it sent a memo to President-elect Trump and his transition team recommending that the government support federal workforce education and training programs (through institutions of higher education) as well as the National Science Foundation’s educational efforts. The memo also advocated for the appointment of a STEM coordinator at the White House.