STEM education part 1

Although college is NOT for everybody, some may be better to go to vocational schools, but in this Information Age, a college education is no longer a luxury but a necessity, especially in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Today a college education is essential to the well-being of a society. The global economy demands that workers must have certain knowledge and skills if they want to have a decent standard of living. The job market also requires workers to have both technical knowledge and the ability to adapt to a fast-changing technology. It means having technical skills is only the first step but workers must also have the lifelong learning attitude to keep up with market demands.

However in developing countries, the access to good education, especially in STEM fields, is still limited. Many education systems are too slow to change. Although everyone agrees that a practical education is important but students are still being taught the “old method” that emphasize memorization rather than develop skills to solve problems. Students must know a lot of theories to pass exams, but few know how to apply their knowledge in real works. For years, the academia people have debated on the goals of education with no conclusion. Education can be a “noble cause” or a “high ideal” but it must be practical. My view on the goals of education is to develop the knowledge and skills for people so they can be productive members of the society and generates innovations to stimulate economic growth to support the advancement of a society.

A recent global study reported that only 10% to 20% of college graduates in developing countries have the knowledge and skills that are “employable” by international standards. It means the way these countries develop their human capital is very inefficient. Without proper action, their people will remain in a “low income” level and cannot move up to “high income” status or the standard of living of developed countries. The study stated that between the year 2010 to 2020 the world will be facing a shortage of 40 million high-skilled workers but at the same time has a surplus of 125 million low-skilled labor workers who will mostly be unemployed and live in poverty. Unfortunately, many developing countries do not have plans to improve STEM education. As a result, their students are not being prepared to compete for jobs in areas that are driving the global economy.

Although there are few schools in those countries that have adopted STEM training and new teaching methods but they are still a small scale implementation rather than a complete overhaul of the education system. It is difficult to track their effective training and contributing to their societies. However if these schools can share their STEM training programs as well as method of teaching with others via some sort of collaboration, things will improve. But training program and teaching method are only the first step, to facilitate more STEM trainings, countries must start with teachers and ensure that they have the best teachers. It is the teachers that make the difference. Therefore the training of teacher should be considered a high priority and encouraged by paying STEM teachers more than others. Good STEM teachers require specialized training and their skills are in high demand. In this globalized world, no country can develop a stable and prosperous economy, if they ignore the fact that technology is the key driver and nothing can be achieved, if there is no budget to develop STEM teachers.

To develop the next generation of skilled workers for the country, STEM training must start early, from elementary to high school and university. Especially at the university level, student enrollments in STEM classes must be encouraged and the number of STEM classes must be double or triple to meet global demand. Every parent should demand that their children are educated in STEM skills. Every student should know that there is a worldwide shortage of 40 million positions in STEM areas and if they study STEM, they can build excellent career and contribute to their society and support their country's economic growth.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University