Shyamsunder Panchavati

Shyamsunder Panchavati
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Monday, November 1, 2010


STEM (Science,Technology,Engineering,& Math) education in USA, The initiative, The interest, The action.

STEM Education in United States

STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) education has again come into limelight suddenly with everyone concerned including White House taking initiatives in this direction.
I very vividly remember almost a year back in 2009 when this issue was raised by my favorite author, Harvard professor and former editor of HBR Prof. Rosabeth Moss Kanter raised this issue in one of her articles during her India visit to attend Nasscom seminar. She said
“America will create new jobs by tapping the inventiveness of entrepreneurs who can draw on a large pool of talent with so-called STEM skills – science, technology, engineering, and math. I wish that the federal stimulus package included less money on banks and more on investment in higher education and companies of the future.”
Nice words spoken, but no concrete action in that direction. A typical case of ‘intent and action’ going in opposite directions. Industry at least seemed happy building their empires outside United States ‘CISCO’ CEO John Chambers prided in his Indian talent acquisition. He said at same conference.
“Cisco CEO John Chambers, who spoke before I did with his usual charm, repeated his company’s investment in Bangalore as its second global headquarters because of the 600,000 engineers a year that India produces.”
Is it a preference of convenience over construction? STEM education is a huge construction work involving the Government the industry and the intelligentsia. Till now none of them seemed to have taken it seriously.
It however is a happy augury that people have suddenly realized the importance of it. Let us hope this new found enthusiasm results in some concrete action being taken in this direction.
However the implementation of STEM is not as easy as people think. For the student perspective to change, it is essential that the changes are brought in the teacher perspective, the parent perspective, and teaching institutions perspective.
The role of Institutions
The institutions need to make the science curriculum more down to earth. It is should be relevant and related to day to day applications. The indifference to science & math should in a gradual process transformed in to interest, love and finally to passion. A sufficient dose of practicals, puzzles, & games could help, but more importantly it should be related to the happenings and applications around us.
The natural affinities
Another reality that parents & the teaching community should take note of is that if one scores less in math & science, it is not the student who needs too be blamed. It has to be understood that, Science, Math, humanities learning are related to different but overlapping functions of the brain. Each individual has a circuit naturally designed for a particular steam and a profession. The Bio-individuality of Human beings needs to be respected. This has been proved by many neurophysiologic studies and has strong empirical evidence in its support.
However on the positive side is the Neuro-plasticity, which states that every one can learn, only thing is some of us just need to be Re-Booted More often than not, it requires that we start from the ground up

The quotients IQ, EQ & PQ
STEM education is just not the case of IQ (Intelligence Quotient). It also involves EQ (Emotional Quotient), & PQ (Physical Quotient).
First factor is the PQ. The physical ability to learn, which includes the ability to hear, see, feel, move, and have the energy they need to learn.
Second factor is the EQ. Children need the right attitude to be able to learn. Without a good attitude learning becomes almost impossible. EQ includes attitudes about themselves, others, their work and the future.
Last but not the least is the IQ. The cognitive ability to learn which includes the ability to attend, understand, imbibe, process, recall & reproduce when required.

Pedagogy & Content connection:
There needs to be a symbiotic co-existence between the pedagogy & the content. “The Process & the Produce”. Iteration is an important prerequisite in any teaching process, more so in STEM education. The second most important requirement is for the teaching to come out of its linear mindset. A non linear spiral process could be a better alternative.

The faculty and the Involvement
The whole above process can be accentuate or negated by the most important factor, the faculty and its involvement. What is need is, informed teachers who are passionate about the subject and who show how the content is relevant to the real world. Strategies and gimmicks are secondary. 
We need strategies that allow students to write, discuss, create visual representations, and organize concepts meaningfully. The majority of students coming through public education are not naturally doing this. Strong learners are. But we need far more teachers teaching kids how to think than ever before.
 I would like to see more about the connections between content and active learning.
Let us hope that the initiatives taken by the Government and intellectuals transform themselves into concrete action plans which are implemented with all sincerity &  in not so distant future, United States starts producing sufficient number of STEM graduates.

 Let us toast to the bright future of United States of America


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