For the past few years, a powerful acronym has been commonly used to describe a trend to promote children to focus upon education.  The topics of education are Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths.  Most of the attention has been to convince young ladies that these STEM study themes are a smart strategy to consider.  Historically, these themes have been male dominated.

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Women represent the majority of young university graduates, but are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) fields.

  • According to the National Household Survey (NHS), women accounted for 39% of university graduates aged 25 to 34 with a STEM degree in 2011, compared with 66% of university graduates in non-STEM programs.
  • Among STEM graduates aged 25 to 34, women accounted for 59% of those in science and technology programs but accounted for 23% of those who graduated from engineering and 30% of those who graduated from mathematics and computer science programs.
  • Men aged 25 to 34 with STEM degrees, who are more concentrated in engineering, had lower unemployment rates, higher wages, and a lower rate of job mismatch than their non-STEM counterparts. The labour market outcomes of women with STEM degrees, who are more concentrated in science and technology, did not clearly differ from non-STEM women in this age group.
  • Students who chose a STEM university program had higher PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) mathematics scores at age 15, higher mathematics marks in high school, and had a more positive perception of their mathematical ability than those who opted for other fields of study.
  • Women are always less likely to choose a STEM program, regardless of mathematical ability. Among those who went to university, 23% women in the three highest categories of PISA scores (out of six) chose a STEM program, compared with 39% of men in the three lowest categories of PISA scores.

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So, why should we care?  At a very basic level, it is a question of fairness.  Women should have the same opportunities as men to choose to pursue and succeed in a STEM career.  But there are also strong economic arguments for caring about the issue.  If women and men are equally able, then the fact that women are not entering these fields of study or working in these sectors and occupations means that talent is being misused and that economies are less productive than they could be.  While the literature on this is still emerging, some recent work suggests that correcting gender segregation in employment and in entrepreneurship could increase aggregate productivity globally by as much as 16 percent.

Getting more people, generally, in STEM is a proactive view of what the future of the workforce brings.  In the U.S., for example, employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average of all occupations.  Getting more women into STEM occupations could translate into greater gender equality in incomes and better economic prospects for women and their families, as these jobs generally pay more and gender gaps in these occupations are lower than in other sectors.  If the young women of tomorrow are to take advantage of those opportunities, the foundation for their STEM careers needs to be laid today.

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It is therefore logical that there has been much talk and reportage of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects at further and higher education level.  But, we are beginning to see that something is missing in this STEM education strategy, for both males and females.  However, a new aspect needs to be incorporated onto the field of STEM – which people may not be aware of – is the arts. That’s right, the arts.

Referred to as the STEAM movement, it is already being championed globally, educators have now planned out an entire curriculum on bringing all five STEAM subjects together.

The demand for STEAM resources has picked up in the past few years as educators recognize the importance of incorporating creative thinking and visual learning into their classrooms.

The greatest thing about the STEAM movement is that young people do not have to wait until further down the line in education to be exposed to it.  The iconic educational television program, Sesame Street, recently announced its 43rd season will incorporate the arts into its existing STEM focus.

Given the need for educators to focus on STEM in their integrated learning systems, is it really wise to say that the arts should also take a prominent place?  Some argue that the arts are not essential learning compared to the core STEM themes, here are some of there arguments:

  • The need for STEM workers far outweighs the need for professional artists.
  • NASA, the National Science Foundation, and other prominent institutions host programs that promote STEM, not STEAM.
  • STEM careers are male-dominated. A focus on STEM rather than STEAM in schools may shift the balance.

The practical nature of STEM subjects is clear, but that does not mean that the arts play no role in leading students to successful careers.  In July 2014 Edudemic showcased an infographic by the University of Florida that shows how important that it is to recognize that a “half-brain” education — that is, an education that heavily favors either left-brained or right-brained subjects — is not good enough.

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This infographic (see link above) gives examples of prominent personalities who displayed strong characteristics from both sides of the brain.  The examples include Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Marissa Mayer.  Steve Jobs, while brilliant when it came to technology, also saw things from a creative perspective.  He envisioned products and constructed a marketing strategy that appealed to people’s hopes, dreams, and experiences.

The above names represent only a few cases; their experiences do not prove that STEM should morph into STEAM.  However, the University of Florida conducted research that shows that “On average, students who study the arts for 4 years in high school score 98 points higher on the SATs compared to those who study the same for half a year or less” and that “Students who took up music appreciation scored 61 points higher on the verbal section and 42 points higher on the math section.”

Yes, students who study arts tend to perform better academically than those who do not, but there are further reasons why the arts are an important part of an effective education.  Arts help students build confidence, develop motor skills, and hone their decision-making and problem-solving skills.

Over the past few decades, women have made significant advances in university participation, including program areas that had previously been more populated by men.  One area, however, remains male-dominated: science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) degrees.  And among women who choose to pursue a degree in STEM, most do so in biology or science programs, resulting in even fewer women in engineering, computer science and mathematics programs.  These choices have consequences, as fields of study such as engineering and computer science lead, on average, to better outcomes in the labour market in terms of employment, job match and earnings.  For some, aptitude for a particular subject is a factor in university program choice.  Although mathematical ability plays a role, it does not explain gender differences in STEM choices.  Young women with a high level of mathematical ability are significantly less likely to enter STEM fields than young men, even young men with a lower level of mathematical ability.  This suggests that the gender gap in STEM-related programs is due to other factors.  Other possible explanations might include differences in labour market expectations including family and work balance, differences in motivation and interest, and other influences.

So, do the arts matter?  Yes, absolutely, the arts are critical to the future, for both male and females entering the sciences, technology, engineering, and maths pursuit.  Yes, if you want to drive innovation, grow businesses, remain relevant, and succeed.  If a young female student wants to differentiate herself from the males entering the STEM field, then all she needs to do as round out her education with a more balanced and holistic STEAM education.

Corporations need to hire technologists who know how to collaborate in teams, express themselves coherently, engagingly, and persuasively, understand how to take and apply constructive criticism, and how to tell a good story.  Companies do not find these kids sitting alone at a lab table or buried in an algorithm.  I find them taking art classes to understand how colour and light really work, they find them in writing classes learning how to express themselves, they find them in cultural studies and critical theory classes learning about the world at large.

We need both sides of this equation.  If we can do this: marry the technical with the creative — we are golden: competitive, innovative, and ahead of the curve.  So, let us not forget the “A.”

 

References

Edudemic Staff. (2015). STEM vs. STEAM: Why The “A” Makes a Difference. Edudemic. Retrieved on April 26, 2018 from, http://www.edudemic.com/stem-vs-steam-why-the-a-makes-all-the-difference/

Hango, D. (2013). Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university. Retrieved on April 26, 2018 from, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11874-eng.pdf

Munoz-Boudet, A., (2017). STEM fields still have a gender imbalance. Here’s what we can do about it. World Bank. Published in the World Economic Forum. Retrieved on April 26, 2018 from, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/women-are-still-under-represented-in-science-maths-and-engineering-heres-what-we-can-do

Tarnoff, J. (2011). STEM to STEAM – Recognizing the value of creative skills in the competitive debate. Huffpost. Retrieved on April 26, 2018 from, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-tarnoff/stem-to-steam-recognizing_b_756519.html

Uncredited. (2016). STEM vs. STEAM: How the sciences and arts are coming together to drive innovation. The Independent. Retrieved on April 26, 2018 from, https://www.independent.co.uk/student/student-life/Studies/stem-vs-steam-how-the-sciences-and-arts-are-coming-together-to-drive-innovation-a7047936.html

University of Florida. (2014). STEM vs. STEAM Infographic. Americans for the arts. Retrieved on April 26, 2018 from, http://education.arts.ufl.edu/resources/stem-vs-steam-brain

 

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies.

He is a Senior Executive with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 13 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He serves as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.