“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ― Marie Curie
Making STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fun for everyone is one of my challenges in life. I try and hop back to my youth and think what got me excited about science.
What got me excited about science, believe it or not, was medicine. My grandmother suffered a stroke when I was a teenager and I stayed by her bedside all through her hospital visit. I saw first-hand the lifesaving abilities these medications had for various people and it left me in awe.
I also read a book about the same period about a strong woman who ran a pharmaceutical company. In this book, the research part of the creation of these medicines made a lifelong advocate of the benefits of science in our lives.
STEM in society is really important. As scientists, we are making decisions every day about what we should research but I don’t think it should just be up to the scientists. STEM tells us about how our world works and how it will benefit more. My desire is for us all over the world especially in Africa to gauge STEM and talk about the relevance of STEM, this is essential.
One of the biggest challenges we have is the perception of STEM. When children are asked to draw a scientist, they mostly draw an old man with white hair wearing a white coat. That’s the general perception of STEM, yet STEM has a diversity of characters. Beyond that we all have a heritage in STEM. There is no field in STEM that doesn’t have marks from different cultures. So it’s important to show that.
STEM has different meanings to different people. I found a definition that encapsulates it for me;
A person has STEM literacy if she/he can understand the world around her/him in a logical way guided by the principals of scientific thought. A STEM-literate person can think for herself/himself. She/He asks critical questions. She /He can form hypotheses and seek data to confirm or deny them. She/He sees the beauty and complexity in nature and seeks to understand. She/he sees the modern world that mankind has created and hopes to use her/his STEM-related skills and knowledge to improve it.”
A huge part of my advocacy work in Nigeria and West Africa is to encourage students to consider scientific or engineering pursuits.
Of course I won’t convince all the students I encounter, yet I will persist with what I do because I intend to encourage the children who will eventually become scientists and engineers, but beyond that, I hope that the other students develop a love for STEM subjects which will translate positively when they go into other fields. Having a scientifically literate society is very important across the globe. Technology and science is what is shaping our world today and I think every member of society needs to be part of that.
Let’s look briefly at some of the misperceptions about STEM fields and career.
- The world already has too many scientists. There is a major fallacy with this misconception in this statement. Not all STEM students become scientists. Very few do. Majority of the STEM-literate students who go on the regular non-technical careers but with a rich STEM knowledge that can give them a competitive advantage in the complex 21st century! Being STEM literate aids their career paths.
Indeed every country, every society can benefit from scientists who contribute to the collective good of mankind. In the life sciences and bioengineering, we are making huge strides every day, leveraging formally disparate fields such as computer science with the more traditional science of biology. Cures for diseases are being found. Life spans are increasing at astonishing rates. Infant mortalities are decreasing. And still there is much yet to learn.
- I am going to be an engineer or scientist, so STEM is not for me.
Becoming knowledgeable about STEM is not about the 0.01% who might become Ph.D. researchers or the 1% who might become engineers. In this technology driven 21st Century everyone needs to be STEM literate. We all need STEM thinking skills.
Lots of non-STEM jobs have become STEM jobs, especially in the trades. Did you realise that the average new car has about 50 microprocessors? Forget about crawling under it with a few of your Dad’s old tools to fix it! The iPhone is the equivalent of a multi-ton supercomputer of the 1970’s.
Above all though, the burning reason for everyone to become STEM literate is to be more informed. That way we individually and collectively become better decision makers about all the options that our world presents.
STEM is not only for Ph.D. research scientists and engineers. It’s for all of us!
Hopefully, more of our students will take advantage of the new and exciting STEM-focused learning opportunities that organisations like ours create for them.
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Entrepreneur
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness.