It is critical to have students engaged with STEM education from as early as possible Image Credit: Shutterstock

Children are naturally curious. They, typically, love to experiment with materials, play with numbers, work on puzzles and explore their surroundings independently in their early years. However, as they go up in schools, very often they lose interest in subjects that involve numbers or demand their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Traditional teaching methods and learning facts by rote are the some of the key reasons why children sometimes lose grip in science and maths, thereby losing out on a host of lucrative career options in technology, science and engineering.

The 2018 edition of the Future of Job report by World Economic Forum highlights that among the range of established roles that are set to experience increasing demand in the years up to 2022 are data analysts and scientists, software and applications developers, and e-commerce and social media specialists, roles that are significantly based on and enhanced by the use of technology. Also expected to grow are roles that leverage distinctively human skills.

“As we move further towards a knowledge-based economy, a large majority of jobs will be linked to careers focused on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM),” says Brett Girven, Deputy Head Teacher, Kings’ School Al Barsha.

“If we don’t engage children now, we are doing them a disservice.”

As we move further towards a knowledge-based economy, a large majority of jobs will be linked to careers focused on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

- Brett Girven, Deputy Head Teacher, Kings’ School Al Barsha

An early start

It is critical to have students engaged with STEM education from as early as possible as studies have shown that even in Kindergarten, STEM learning enhances children’s enthusiasm, interest and exposure, says Vaughan Pope, Director of IT, Chief Innovation and Digital Officer, GEMS International School, Al Khail.

“Young students are confident, eager to learn and are constantly absorbing from the world around them, and the key is to tap into their innate and natural curiosity about the entire environment around them in a holistic way, which are some of the key tenets of STEM education,” he explains, adding, “STEM also allows children to be actively engaged in their own learning and to follow their own initiatives, giving them ownership of their learning.”

STEM also allows children to be actively engaged in their own learning and to follow their own initiatives, giving them ownership of their learning.

- Vaughan Pope, Director of IT, Chief Innovation and Digital Officer, GEMS International School, Al Khail

Schools in the UAE acknowledge the importance of exposing learners to STEM experiences. But, how do they integrate STEM into the curriculum?

Global Indian International School (GIIS), which has campuses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, believes in infusing STEM education carefully throughout the curriculum with the objective of empowering their students with a deeper understanding of critical concepts.

“All students are exposed to STEM education and robotics compulsorily. The timetable accommodates this activity for all grades,” says Amol Vaidya, Senior Director of Operations, GIIS, adding, “We ensure that our students are able to see a physical manifestation of what they study in textbooks.”

All students are exposed to STEM education and robotics compulsorily. The timetable accommodates this activity for all grades.

- Amol Vaidya, Senior Director of Operations, GIIS

Donavon Reinsmoen, Superintendent, Collegiate American School, echoes the same, as he says, “STEM subjects give students an opportunity to apply their understanding of concepts learned in class to real-world scenarios.” The school runs STEM labs for both elementary and middle/high school, providing students a space for investigation.

“One example of a whole-school STEM activity was the Cardboard Regatta where students, ages 5-18, worked in teams to design and create a boat that they could row across the school’s Olympic sized pool. Teams used a range of techniques but were only given two large sheets of cardboard, two rolls of clear tape and two cutters,” he adds.

STEM subjects give students an opportunity to apply their understanding of concepts learned in class to real-world scenarios.

- Donavon Reinsmoen, Superintendent, Collegiate American School

International Schools Partnership (ISP), a UK based company that owns and operates 34 schools world wide, including the newly-opened The Aquila School in Dubailand, embeds STEAM education into the classroom curriculum as well as outside of the classroom.

“The STEAM and digital resources available in our schools such as Makerspace suites, a hydroponic farm, robotic and coding equipment and the large auditorium for the arts, give our children the space and opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills by solving simulated and real world problems,” says Bharat Mansukhani, Regional Managing Director for ISP Middle East.

The STEAM and digital resources available in our schools such as Makerspace suites, a hydroponic farm, robotic and coding equipment and the large auditorium for the arts, give our children the space and opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills by solving simulated and real world problems.

- Bharat Mansukhani, Regional Managing Director for ISP Middle East

Role of teachers

Although the call for incorporating STEM education in the education mix is widespread, there is a need for more guidance for teachers on how to take this forward.

Last year, a research team led by Michigan Technological University found that across the board the greatest challenge that teachers face is making explicit connections between STEM fields while balancing the need for context and student engagement.

“Successful integration of STEM subjects into the school is all about upskilling teachers to be able to deliver cross-curricula projects,” says Girven. “This is an area of need but not a challenge. Theoretically, STEM should be more constructivist, more problem solving, and enquiry based, so integration requires a reorganisation of the curriculum and providing additional teacher training where needed.”

Incorporating STEM learning into secondary school where there is so much curriculum content is another concern that many educators have. “Opportunities to engage [students] in STEM-related activities beyond the curriculum sometimes become challenging,” says Neil Matthews, Principal and CEO of GEMS Wellington Academy, Al Khail.

The school, however, ensures that students are engaged in cross-curricular projects which require them to connect their scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical skills to solve problems and generate innovative ideas.

Students at GEMS Wellington Academy are engaged in cross-curricular projects which require them to connect their scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical skills to solve problems and generate innovative ideas.

- Neil Matthews, Principal and CEO of GEMS Wellington Academy, Al Khail

At GEMS International School, teachers have the freedom to work with curriculum coordinators and create their units to best reflect the intended outcomes they strive for. “With open-minded teachers and a dynamic curriculum we have noted that STEM integration leads to cross curricular discussions and opportunities that have only enhanced the most important aspect — the learning,” says Pope.