Government ramps up STEM education

Government ramps up STEM education

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness has committed his new Administration to set up six new science, engineering and math academies at the high school level to prepare students for careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field. Holness insists that this is the path to creating a digital society “and closing the digital divide”.

Earlier this year, Dr Grace McLean, chief education officer, emphasised the value of this approach. “STEM was used as one of the philosophical underpinnings for the development of the curriculum. We looked at what was happening in other countries and utilised a similar approach. So the whole aspect of project-based learning is infused in the curriculum where the students are actually learning the fundamentals of science,” she noted.

The Ministry of Education has been working with regional bodies such as the Caribbean Examinations Council to ensure consistent syllabus and examinations aligned to project-based learning. Dr McLean sees STEM as an effective way of rebranding Jamaica's technical and vocational programmes. “For example, if you have a table to be built, outside of those who look at the board and ensure the joints are aligned, there is another side behind it where you now have to do the research to ensure that the kind of glue that you utilise has the correct kind of materials to ensure that when it is placed on the joints for you to put it together, it will stick and last for many, many years. That's STEM at work,” she explained.

Stephen F DeAngelis, president and CEO of the cognitive computing firm Enterra Solutions, says STEM learning has broader implications. “Educating students in STEM subjects (if taught correctly) prepares students for life, regardless of the profession they choose to follow. Those subjects teach students how to think critically and how to solve problems — skills that can be used throughout life to help them get through tough times and take advantage of opportunities whenever they appear,” he said.

The move by the Holness Administration is also in line with thinking across the region where the push had been to establish sixth forms to advance learning well ahead of university attendance. But the emphasis on STEM demonstrates a significant shift towards ensuring a deepening, mainly since the results in maths have been low.

This renewed focus also creates an environment conducive to discovery and innovation in the age of technology development. Many teachers who have focused on teaching critical thinking and problem solving confirm that these lessons are relevant to expanding the universe of learning. It is a view reinforced by DeAngelis. “The best way to do that is to provide them with a good foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics... grounding students in STEM subjects doesn't mean that other social or liberal arts subjects aren't important, only that STEM subjects teach life skills that other disciplines don't,” he said.

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