In a globally connected, technology-driven world, it's not just future computer programmers who benefit from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. A high-quality STEM education is increasingly important for all students, as it promotes critical thinking, science literacy and innovation. Why might these capabilities be key contributors to a country's economic health? How can getting a STEM education as a child pave the way for career success as an adult?
As early as preschool, students begin to develop crucial skills through STEM education as their naturally curious minds learn to think critically, solve problems and observe the world scientifically. As students progress through elementary school and into high school and college, effective STEM education continues to prepare them for some of the most in-demand careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that between 2010 and 2020, employment in science and technology jobs will have grown by 18.7%, compared to 14.3% for all occupations.
STEM Education for Lifelong Success
A strong STEM curriculum benefits students who hope to enter science-related career fields. But educators are recognizing that "scientific literacy" is a key competency that contributes to academic and career achievement for all students. According to the National Education Association, a STEM education aids students in "understanding the importance of science in their daily lives, evaluating public policy decisions, and making informed decisions about science reports in the media."
Lessons learned in STEM fields have broad applications beyond those content areas. The skills to create hypotheses, test assumptions and draw informed conclusions based on data are fundamental to many areas of study and work.
STEM Education as a Career Builder
Given the number of job sectors that rely on technology, it's not surprising that a STEM education prepares students to pursue in-demand career fields. According to the BLS, jobs in STEM occupations grew by 10.5%, or 817,260 jobs, between May 2009 and May 2015, compared with 5.2% growth in non-STEM jobs.
This trend is expected to continue, and, of this growing number of careers, 59% of the projected increase is expected to be in computer and mathematical scientist occupations. In addition, the number of healthcare practitioners and technicians — which the BLS does not count as STEM fields, but which do require significant STEM education — is projected to have grown by 26% between 2010 and 2020.
Not only are these jobs in high demand, they also pay well. On the whole, jobs in STEM fields offer higher wages than those in other fields. A 2017 BLS report puts the average national wage for all STEM occupations at $87,570 per year, nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations of $45,700. In fact, 93% of STEM occupations offered wages much higher than the national average wage for all occupations, which is $48,320.
STEM Education As an Economic Driver
Given its job-creation potential, STEM education is considered an important factor in a nation's overall economic health. A 2020 report prepared by a consortium of major scientific professional organizations found two out of three U.S. jobs and nearly 70% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can be attributed to STEM activities. Furthermore, American STEM jobs annually generate $2.3 trillion in tax revenue. According to Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, the impact may be even greater than previously measured: As of 2011, 26 million U.S. jobs — 20% of all jobs — require a high level of knowledge in at least one STEM field.
STEM is and will most likely continue to be crucial to the health of our national economy. And, because innovation — invention, development, and deployment of technology — is a crucial part of economic development, the American government has recognized and supported STEM education as an economic driver since the creation of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950.
Teachers in STEM fields are learning new and innovative ways to design and implement creative curricula to keep students engaged.
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