So how do we inspire kids to excel at Math and Science?
There are studies showing when students embrace STEM, and then lose interest in STEM.
Academia AND Industry need to start collaborating on techniques to nurture STEM kids past the typical disengagement time frame.
A first step is to make children comfortable with being smart. Boys AND girls excel when there is no social pressure, but once they reach that age, those that do not excel at STEM seem to drag down those that do. Social denigration and bullying have been around for a long time. It starts in adolescence and persists all the way into and through adulthood. I was bullied in Middle School. I was part of a group of 6-8 students that took higher level math, science, and humanities (there was no Gifted and Talented programs back then), I was bullied (physically) and made fun of. Bottom line, then and now, it is not as cool (in the student community) to be smart as it is to be gifted athletically. (For the record I also lettered in multiple sports and went on to compete in college, yet my academic status kept me in my “status group” corner).
One of my favorite movies is Real Genius. A movie about higher performing STEM students coming of age. Even bullied by other smart (to a lesser degree) students, a room mate talks a student out of quitting and running away, proclaiming “When you are smart, people need you.”
Other movies are out there, one recent one is Hidden Figures. The story of a team of female African American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. AS my engineer experience grew, I became even more awed and amazed at what had gone into achieving the successes of the spaceflight program in the 60’s & 70’s with the analog technology that they had. Even now, when everyone has more computing power in their pocket (cellular phone) that could fit in a conference room back in the 60’s, news agencies are excitedly talking about countries circling the Moon and landing people on the Moon. I said to myself, “big deal.” It was done over 50 years ago with a fraction of the technology, resources, and capability existing now.
Companies have become complacent waiting for graduates that know the basics of the three R’s, and then teaching them what they really need them to know. It is time to start doing that much earlier in the process, working with an education system that wants to do what is right , rather than acting defensive and protecting jobs through pursuing the status quo.