Among the 40 most advanced countries, the U.S. ranks at 38 for science graduates. Figures from 2012 indicted that the number of undergraduates earning STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math) was only 16 percent. As the pace of scientific research accelerates it’s important for all students to understand the link between science and public policy issues such as climate change that impact our lives.
With so much at stake, it could be an ideal time to take on science education for your next research paper topic.
Importance of science education
The role of the U.S. as a world superpower is at risk due to slipping numbers of graduates with STEM degrees. Rebecca Harrington reported on findings from the 2015 Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard report in her January 4, 2016, article for TechInsider.io, “There’s one big problem that’s causing the US to fall behind in math and science.”
The report was compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which based its results on the percentage of STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math) awarded per capita.
The biggest reason for a lack of STEM graduates is that the education system doesn’t work hard enough to keep science engaging and relevant for students.
“About 40% of college freshmen say they intend to major in STEM fields, according to a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, but by graduation, only 16% actually get degrees in those fields,” Harrington said.
According to Harrington, STEM students lose interest because they’re viewed as nerds, female students don’t receive the encouragement that they need, and there is a general lack of joy and passion for the power of science.
Who needs science?
Often students lose interest in STEM subjects because they don’t see them as relevant. Yet, a quick review of the top news topics shows how science impacts our lives.
Some of the public policy issues facing the country include:
- Climate change
- Energy policy and the use of fossil fuels
- Stem cell research
In a July 22, 2014, article for ScientificAmerican.com, “Our own track record proves that steady federal funding support leads to success,” Mariette DiChristina discussed the value of science education.
DiChristina explained how most of U.S. economic growth since World War II is the direct result of scientific research which led to developments in technology, energy and food production. Once a leader in innovation, the U.S. now faces stiff competition from countries such as China.
“Over the past 10 years, STEM jobs grew 3x as fast as non-STEM, says the U.S. Department of Commerce, and our leading technology companies are often challenged to fill the necessary openings,” DiChristina said.
The future of science education
Not only does the U.S. need more STEM graduates joining the workforce, the nation needs an informed public to deal intelligently with the many policy issues that require our attention. Changes in the way science is taught can help to accomplish these goals.
Professor Marcia C. Linn of University of California, Berkeley and assistant professors Elizabeth A. Davis and Philip Bell offered a road map for reforming science education in their book, Internet Environments for Science Education.
As the authors see it, success is based on developing the skill of inquiry in order to convert students into lifelong science learners. They defined inquiry as, “[…] the intentional process of diagnosing problems, critiquing experiments, distinguishing alternatives, planning investigations, researching conjectures, searching for information, constructing models, debating with peers, and forming coherent arguments.”
Their book outlined a research program that would spread inquiry across the science curriculum with projects lasting one or more weeks, conducted with technology supports and matched to the goals of each science course. Through these science inquiry projects, students communicate about scientific topics, evaluate scientific texts, conduct investigations, ask questions about science or technology policies, create designs, and critique arguments, often using technology resources.
What do you see as the future of science education? Tell us in the comments.