What Is STEM Education And Why Is It Important?

Lucy Bell-Young

by Lucy Bell-Young

25th September 2020

STEM education can be pursued by students who have good aptitude in science and maths subjects. It’s an education strand that’s offered throughout school, and in secondary school specifically to qualified students who are planning to take science-related courses in college. A good grounding in STEM is preparation for those who want to pursue careers in medicine, academia, scientific research, chemistry, or engineering. Unfortunately, we’re now witnessing a STEM skills shortage, which you can read about here.

What Does STEM Stand For?

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It refers to the strand within the academic track that focuses on these disciplines, which are there to educate and train future scientists or engineers. In many developed countries, the STEM strand is highly competitive, with only a few talented students getting admitted every year. Conversely, these types of skills are increasingly highly sought-after.

Tests are usually required to determine the aptitude of students who want to pursue STEM-related courses. Additionally, a minimum grade standard must typically be met and maintained in order to stay on the education programme. 

In the UK, the STEM education system covered all countries, but has since devolved to each of its constituencies. Therefore, the STEM requirements and curriculum may slightly vary across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. For instance, in Scotland, schools use the Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC) instead of GCSEs. Private institutions in Scotland also have the option to choose alternative qualifications.

STEM with young man holding his hands

Why Is STEM Important In Schools?

  1. Backbone of civilisation

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are the foundations of our technological society. Industries and the economy in general are dependent on these complex and multi-layered systems that are ultimately taught in STEM subjects.

Without the technical knowledge and skills in various industries, civilisation as we know it wouldn’t be able to function properly. Power generation, transportation, communication, and food production are now all dependent on advanced technology, as well as large-scale productions and operations. STEM education ensures that these pillars of progress are taught to the masses.

  1. Solid intellectual foundation

STEM subjects are important in schools because they serve as the fertile ground from which future technical workers and industry leaders will be nurtured. STEM subjects provide the intellectual foundations and tools for future scientists, inventors, and engineers. Although specialisation in the STEM strand is commonly offered in secondary schools, STEM subjects are taught early on. Some schools even specialise in STEM subjects that are intended for children as early on in their education as nursery.

  1. Better learning experience

The STEM approach is more hands-on and can be a fun way of learning – and hands-on learning means that children are more likely to remember what they’ve learned. At its core, this practical approach to learning helps pupils retain more information and understand concepts better. For example, the basic concepts of classical mechanics, such as mechanical advantage and forces, can easily be understood using toys, allowing children to learn while having fun. For secondary school students, this hands-on approach in STEM, such as programming and experimenting, can cement key scientific concepts through practical application.

  1. Problem-solving skills

Even if students grow up to pursue careers that aren’t even remotely related to science, the STEM curriculum significantly helps them in becoming analytically minded. This scientific mindset goes a long way in helping them solve many types of problems, not only in the workplace, but in life in general. 

For example, skills in algebra may help a businessperson figure out the optimal way their company can earn profits under certain parameters. Meanwhile, daily tasks like cooking can be executed more efficiently with basic maths skills or problem-solving capabilities. 

Stem education. Physical experiments at school, kids constructing atom model on lab workplace

STEM education creates a better learning experience by giving students a hands-on experience

What Are STEM Careers?

STEM careers are the backbone of our technological society. In order to function, society is hinged on industries that interweave and rely on each other. These all involve technical knowledge and skills that can be achieved through STEM education, and they include the following sectors:

  • Energy generation
  • Energy distribution
  • Mining and cultivation of raw materials
  • Transportation (by land, sea, and air)
  • Communication
  • Production
  • Information and logistics

Technologies developed in these sectors are all dependent on other industry technologies to function. Any significant interruption in one or more of these sectors can lead to economic downturn, leading to closures of businesses and job losses. In order to keep the gears of civilisation rotating , science-trained technocrats are needed.

Some examples of STEM careers are:

  • Academicians: This includes science teachers, maths professors, academic researchers, secondary school teachers, and everything in between.
  • Scientists: Science researchers and experts in cutting-edge technology, like nanotech and quantum computing, can also emerge from STEM education. 
  • Engineers: From chemical engineers to civil engineers, this role builds the structures and machines necessary for various activities, like manufacturing, transportation, and energy generation.
  • Healthcare providers: Careers as physicians, nurses, medical technologists, and other allied medical professions can be secured with a STEM education. 
  • Data analysts: Depending on their expertise, data analysts can provide actionable insights on large data. This could be market data, population data, meta-research data, or online data.
  • Programmers and software developers: These careers are concerned with developing new computer applications and improving computer systems. They can also be linked to the entertainment industry, where STEM skills can be used to develop games or gaming software. 

Science Technology Engineering Math education web icon

Why Are STEM Skills Important In Life?

Fundamental STEM skills are typically classified as logical-mathematical and spatial skills. These are possessed by everybody, but with varying levels of competency. They can be honed through education, as well as hands-on practice. Although not everyone has the aptitude for pursuing science or maths courses at college, pretty much everyone has the rational faculty and numerical reasoning that is needed to function in day-to-day life. 

Logical thinking and numerical reasoning are basic skills that aren’t only applied in technical problems, but also in daily and commonplace activities, like buying groceries or taking a taxi. This shows how the skills nurtured by STEM education pervade everyday life right down to menial tasks. 

Some of the nuanced STEM skills, like data analysis, are equally as important, and play a key role in decision-making and problem-solving. Whether it’s political, financial, or relational problems, good analytical skills will give you the advantage in coming up with solutions.

Find out more in our careers in chemistry resources hub.


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