“When I grow up, I want to be a YouTuber!” This is an increasingly common answer given by children when asked what they want to do when they grow up. The rapid growth in technology in the 21st century has changed our lives forever. iPads, Apple TVs and an increasing range of tech appliances are appearing in our schools as teachers attempt to prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s world. Educators the world over are revisiting their curriculum and asking questions such as: do elementary school children still need to learn handwriting? What does a 21st century curriculum look like? What will adequately prepare children for the future?

A report last year from Dell Technologies states that 85% of the jobs available in 2030 have not even been conceived of yet. Global management consulting firm, McKinsey, has also predicted that future careers in medicine, space, social networks, robotics, computing, energy and the environment will dominate. We are living in enlightening and changeable times where the opportunity for a child to become a 3D printer clothing designer or to work in the space tourism industry reflect the exciting opportunities that many children may have in the future. As such, schools must adapt and develop a curriculum that gives children the knowledge and skills needed in this shifting future jobscape.

Many educationalists have pointed to the need for schools to invest and develop science, technology, engineering and maths – or STEM. Earth needs more scientists – whether that be to help solve the plastic disaster that is engulfing our planet or to help lessen the tragedy of child mortality from malaria in Africa, there are countless positive opportunities for scientists to help contribute to human life and development.

The rise of technology in recent years has been staggering and with Artificial Intelligence (AI) starting to emerge in everyday life, the need to generate young adults who are keen to work in the technology sector, is obvious. Without science and technology, engineering would not be possible and it is an industry which we will always need in order to advance. The advancement in engineering is particularly evident in Singapore, with such incredible structures as Marina Bay Sands and the Supertree Grove of Gardens by the Bay. The skills that children develop when learning math are extremely valuable in many walks of life. In particular, maths makes children better at solving problems and boosts their analytical and reasoning skills.

A debate over whether it should be STEAM, where art and design are added to the teaching approach, or STEM has emerged most recently among educationalists. The idea was championed by Rhode Island School of Design about a decade ago: “The goal is to foster the true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer.”

STEAM, however, is not about taking these subjects in isolation, it is about an interdisciplinary approach to learning and building children’s Creativity, Curiosity and Problem Solving Skills (CCP). Ken Robinson’s work Do Schools Kill Creativity, with over 15.5 million views on YouTube to date, is the most watched TED talk of all time and raises many interesting points about how embedding STEAM into a school curriculum can help combat exactly that. Many schools in Singapore now have a ‘Maker’ or ‘Creative Space’ where children can complete STEAM projects and challenges.

So important do some institutions see the role of STEAM education that universities, such as The Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), Boston, are currently supporting schools all over the world with STEAM development, offering training to teachers on best practice and meaningful, practical classes. Selected pupils from across the globe are also given the opportunity to attend an annual STEAM week where they carry out a range of STEAM based activities, such as studying autonomous vehicles (AVs) and the impact they are likely to have on our planet, as well as their functionality and ethics of what a self-driving vehicle should do in the event of an accident.

Nayang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, which has the biggest AV test track in the world and is currently testing a self-driving bus, also understands the importance of introducing technological development to young learners. Recently there has been an initiative to allow pupils to ride and learn about the bus before it is rolled out in Sentosa in the next 12 months.

Recognition of such initiatives among students in education is, however, in its infancy. According to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, about a third of US college students change majors at least once and many who do this began their college education studying science, technology and mathematics – in other words, STEM fields. Furthermore, they found that students in STEM fields are about six percent more likely to change majors than non-STEM students. So, there is still a way to go when it comes to raising awareness in preparing young people for the jobs of the future.

That said, the rise of STEAM or STEM is likely to continue and gather more significance organically as technology continues to enrich and engulf our world. Whether this happens immediately it is crucial that schools and teachers help to embed a creative, curious mindset in children so that they are ready for the challenges that they will face when they graduate from university or leave school.

Richard Baines is a teacher at Dover Court International School, Singapore, where he is the current STEAM leader. Richard is originally from London but his teaching career has taken also him to other UK cities and Asia. When he’s not in the classroom you’ll find him on the tennis court or running around MacRitchie Reservoir.

Photos by Katie Baines

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