Challenges and references of STEAM education

 Learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is insufficient to meet the expected demand for work in this sector. Governments and institutions are concerned. It is also worrying that the profile of STEM students is too homogeneous, since women, the working class and minority ethnic groups are not represented. And this situation has a negative effect on the economy. All young people should develop minimum STEM skills so that, as citizens, they can address the great challenges of democratic society, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In order to tackle these challenges, the STEM field plays a leading role, both in the causes and in the search for solutions. Whatever the world of the future will be, it is clear to us that we cannot renounce all of us together being able to decide on the basis of democratic will. To this end, it is necessary to improve the scientific literacy of all social groups.

The majority of young people have great aspirations, but not related to STEM fields.

 The majority of young people between 10 and 14 years of age have quite high aspirations of success, social relevance, etc. However, very few intend to become STEM professionals (about 15%).

 The majority of girls and boys between the ages of 6 and 9 say that they learn interesting things in science lessons. Students have a positive image of scientists’ contributions towards improving the world and their parents believe it is important to learn science. However, after asking them if they intend to work in the STEM fields, most children aged 10-14 totally reject the idea.

Why does this happen at puberty? First of all, we have to reinforce young people from Primary Education onwards, because when they reach the age of 9 it may be too late.

Family “scientific capital” is fundamental.

 We are aware that families have a great influence on the aspirations of students. A key factor is family “scientific capital”.

When we talk about scientific capital, we are talking about qualifications related to science, understanding, knowledge (what we know about science and how it works), interest and social relations (for example, knowing someone who has a science-related job).

 The scientific capital of the family is distributed differently among social groups. The highest levels of scientific capital usually belong to the middle classes. Lower and upper class families have low scientific capital. Young people from families with high scientific capital have been found to have a greater propensity for STEM professions than young people from families with low scientific capital. This situation makes it difficult to break the homogeneity of the STEM professional group.

One of the consequences of STEM having a low scientific capital is not knowing the diversity of professional paths that STEM can have.

This situation generates a very narrow view, since young people can deduce that STEM studies lead to work mainly as scientists, engineers, STEM teachers… so many young people consider that STEM “is not important to me” because it does not satisfy their concerns.

The stereotyped image of STEM professionals and STEM studies excludes many young people.

Young people believe that STEM professionals are “very bright”, “hard-working” and “freak/geeks”, so they conclude that “I am not like this, so this is not for me”. It is unlikely that anyone who does not consider him-/herself one of the “smartest” in the school (most of them) will want to study science, even if they like science and get good grades.

Also, the image of science career professionals is a problem: male, middle class, and white.

It is easier for a student to express his desire for science if he is male and white and has a high or very high scientific capital, since he is able to identify with that image.

Therefore, it is not so likely that a student can practice science “for me” if she is a woman, of low cultural capital and a low socioeconomic level.

 In short, the problems of equity and, above all, those of gender are evident, even at an early age. Girls choose STEM studies less than boys, but a higher percentage of girls have more enjoyable science in their childhood. Girls are very much in favour of studies related to the arts and the humanities. The stereotyped image of STEM professionals alienates young people who do not identify with it. Thus, girls who define themselves as “feminine” (very feminine) rarely take up STEM studies. Girls who take up studies related to STEM are usually very academic and may be considered “not feminine”. These “feminine” girls who decide to study science at 10-11 years of age drop out of those studies or modify them as time passes.  In the case of minority students, the factors that hinder the development of scientific objectives are aggravated. On the one hand, because of their differences, and on the other, because they have more difficulties in accessing STEM studies. This is particularly so if personal and social factors are combined, as in the case of women of Latin origin.

Read here the complete ebook STEM professionals to inspire young people


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