Hint: Sell the benefits!
No romance without finance, you gotta have a J-O-B-, if you wanna be with me! (the refrain from a popular 90s song)
How I became drawn to STEM
I’d like to think that when my lifelong obsession from STEM has to do with all of the tinkering I did as a child on our various electronics. I was always curious about how they worked and fortunately had parents who bought books that fueled my curiosity. I also was surrounded by intellectuals (both parents were Professors) and this stimulation plus the environment created around me had something to do with his early career choice. As a teen, I was intrigued about what engineers did and had fallen in love with Chemistry. A simple search in the library led me to realize that I could merge both; Chemical Engineering. That’s the prerogative of being immersed in a supportive background!
This is key to the shaping of Nigeria’s educational system (as well as that of other nations in Africa and that of the United States); the future of their economies depend on it.
Let me re-iterate what STEM is, it is Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. We use the acronym when describing the education of the four areas for our children. Now currently, when we discuss education, we talk about it as a means to an end and ultimately come down to economic competitiveness. Yet it is beyond that, it has to do with the minds of our youth. We should discuss the relevance of what they are studying at school, what they love and reflect upon what sort of world that they desire to be in.
It is a no-brainer that a lot of teens around the world love their smartphones, they love what technology has helped them to be able to do with them. Spark their interest in how these phones were created as well as the technology that goes with them. Remind them that Scientists are critical because they do the hard work of research behind a lot of what we have taken for granted; medicine, cosmetics, drinks, to name a few. Engineers are vital, because they build the games and hardware they love so much, and are the ones who develop and shape the future of technology. When we have engineers who are dedicated to what they do, our nation becomes competitive, and we create a culture of innovation and lifelong learning.
How do we get our children to be interested in these fields? By talking to them as stated above. Also by having classes that would encourage and inspire them. Developing their interests in STEM. These influences at this important age clearly shapes their future.
We are failing when it comes to inspiring and preparing our teenagers to take on careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, referred to as STEM. And while some go on to studying them at the University, we have students who don’t have solid foundations in the important fundamental subjects of math and science. They also have no hands on experience on how to apply concepts from them to the real world. A lot of our students have low comprehension skills and critical thinking skills. Math proficiency has fallen rapidly.
These indicators point to a STEM talent pool that is too shallow to meet future demands; STEM need for economic viability like those of the Asian tigers are increasing at rates far faster than we realize. Our public school model is severely outdated and provides insufficient support and resources to meet this growing demand.
So what can we do to help students succeed in the 21st century and in turn drive business growth?
For one, we need to provide students and teachers with supplemental programs. Afterschool activities, scholarship, mentoring, competitions – all help inspire the interest and passion students need to build their skills. Our businesses and philanthropic organizations should step in and sponsor these programs.
I believe that when we provide teachers with equipment and resources, we can help our educators do their jobs more effectively. Further, we can create and foster our own organic programs to feed tomorrow’s hungry STEM talent pipeline. This is something that I don’t just talk about, it’s something that is imbibed in all that I do. I constantly think and work on ways to alleviate the issues facing our students and teachers.
Every time I think about the various schools that I taught in when I was in the United States and compare them with schools in Nigeria, I’m overwhelmed with the differences in how STEM is treated in Nigeria versus the support I received in the United States as the crisis for STEM began to be addressed. I can’t help but think about how crucial this support would be for schools in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Science, technology, engineering and math are cool, and we need to drive that message home to students early on. We need to show them how those fields provide the technologies they love, and how building skills in those fields will enable them have great paying jobs (sell benefits to them first!) and also drive economic prosperity to their countries long term.
Remember our children are naturally curious, a lot of them are incredibly smart and capable. Let’s just point them in the right direction.
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