“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…” — President Barack Obama, March 23, 2015.

STEM is an important part of a well-rounded education for all students—an education that provides access to science, social studies, literature, the arts, physical education and health, and the opportunity to learn an additional language. STEM aids students in imbibing a passion for inquiry and discovery and fosters skills such as persistence, teamwork, and the execution of using acquired knowledge to new situations.

These growth mindsets and habits that inculcate one’s ability for academic resolve and lifelong learning in dynamic global marketplace is built from a robust STEM education. This education should start as early as preschool, is culturally inclusive, deploys problem- and inquiry-based approaches, and engrosses students in hands-on activities that should create occasional interactions with STEM professionals.

STEM is critical in the world as we know it today because the global economy is dependent on it. STEM, it’s more than coding and lab coats. It’s the center of manufacturing, food production, health care, and a lot of what we take for granted, but can’t live without. People wonder if it’s so important, why do we need to go on about it? Why do you need to write about it all of the time? And therein lies the elephant in the room; we haven’t gotten it yet in Nigeria and for the most part across Africa.

Across the world, there are millions of STEM jobs projected to be unfiled and there is a severe under-representation of women. This is due to a lack of a holistic STEM education and here is why.

We begin by stressing the relevance of STEM to everyone; parents, teachers and our students. It follows logically that once we all get the importance of STEM, we would ensure that our children are exposed to STEM. We gain this knowledge and what it means for the future of our children.

Let’s talk about the benefits for our society. STEM jobs pay very well. On average STEM jobs pay about 99% more than all others. Tech giants are pay very well for the scarcity of talent.

The need for STEM jobs is growing exponentially- The thing about STEM is that is dynamic and doesn’t stop. It is an integral part of everything else right now. Recently Tencent a Chinese Tech conglomerate stated that there are 300,000 AI researchers and practitioners across the globe! Imagine that! It followed that statement by declaring that the demand for such positions is in the millions!!!

Innovation is smack dab in the middle of STEM; it is not a stretch of the imagination that our African children will be working jobs we haven’t even dreamed of.

STEM jobs rock! (they are fun) – STEM jobs are the most intriguing in the world. To explain this would take a long time but you can see how futuristic STEM jobs and cool they are.

There is a strong link between STEM and early childhood; and that by learning STEM skills first, children are primed for school and future careers (that is, all careers, not just those in STEM, thanks to the STEM skills being found as effective forecast of later learning).

The current CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi observed that: “One of the things that my experience has taught me is that if you are trained as a scientist in your youth – through your high school and college – if you stay with the STEM disciplines, you can learn pretty much all of the subjects as you move along in life. And your scientific disciplines play a very important role, and ground you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is.

It is a great thing to build our children early because they are innately curious—in an environment where everything is filled with wonder (can you blame them?)

They desire discovery and exploration; picking things up, putting things down, asking why; tasting, smelling, and attentively watching anything that wanders in their line of sight. Everything is new, everything must be analyzed.

Without guidance and enabling inquisitive minds with things to play with and explore, that uninhibited inquisitiveness will either fade or simply won’t reach optimal levels.

What’s critical here is the structure that goes along with the activity.

Facilitating helping children draw conclusions, make connections, and discover deeper meanings with the things they’re delving into.

With our female children, introducing STEM before they have a chance to hear all about what is or isn’t “for girls” while robots, math, and other things are “for boys” ensures that they stay interested in STEM. Ultimately, it’s never too late, but it’s much better to be early.

Unfortunately, the place where many spend their time for learning—school—isn’t quite yet where it needs to be in terms of equipping students with STEM skills. Most schools don’t offer coding classes. Incorporating STEM in classrooms is also not cheap unless with guidance by a STEM Education Expert.

Also getting qualified or competent staff to drive STEM curriculum in our schools is tough. The current curriculum is vast for a teacher to cover not to talk having time new STEM lesson plans.

Moving Forward

Finally, let’s focus on the one good thing that shines through all of this; Opportunity.

There are a lot of prospects for our children due to the sheer number of available STEM jobs, the magnitude of other careers that STEM plays a huge role in, is also there.

This year 2019, we are going to be hearing a lot about AI and Machine Learning. It’s up to us to keep learning and re-learning so that we can remain informed and then tap into our children’s’ interests. Our goal is to successfully introduce STEM in ways that are designed, superb, and impressionable.

Adetola Salau, Carismalife4U@gmail.com, an advocate of STEM education, public speaker, author, and social entrepreneur, is passionate about education reform.