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The Evolution of Education – STEM, STEAM and STREAM


STEAM education as we know it today finds its roots in space exploration. In the 1950s, the US and Russia pioneered the race to space. Every nation since has followed suit to have a slice of the pie in space exploration. “The technological know-how required to support the space race essentially built the modern world as we know it today,” writes Aldo Spadoni, an MIT graduate and NASA Aerospace Engineer. Hence, the global surge in the development and application of technology. Telecommunications and mass production led to the creation of manufacturing robots. Robotics led to AI-powered driverless vehicles. Shopping assistants were in turn derived from machine learning and Big Data. Our information society is progressing faster as we consume and communicate curated information. But, at what cost have we progressed into a semi-automated world?

Manufacturing isn’t the only industry making the switch. Most industries are employing more automated capital equipment (robots). Hubspot marketing lists the top ten professions which artificial intelligence (AI) will be replacing. Telemarketers with a 99% probability to market research professionals with a 54% probability of being replaced. The jobs of today will transform with AI. Hence, it is necessary to change our learning and educational systems for our children.

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The birth of STEM

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics make up the acronym of STEM. Every single nation forging ahead towards growth and development encourages STEM education. STEM sets the technical knowledge base from which students can develop an understanding. This understanding assists in making connections between their education and real life. An educational foundation in STEM is marketable. Hence, it leads STEM graduates to earn more than those without a STEM qualification. But, Hansen (2014) has concluded in a study in America, that there is no significant improvement between STEM and non-STEM students. According to the Economic Times in 2018, India still faces a shortage of graduates in STEM, despite its lead against the US by 2.5 million graduates.

The evolution of STEM into STEAM

The primary limitation is the late and unequal implementation of STEM into the academic curriculum. It happens only at middle school and only for those children who have access to laboratory facilities. Thus, it creates a disparity in skills. This LinkedIn article addresses an important question, “are students who wish to pursue technical career paths aware of how liberal arts subjects (like history) can help them achieve success in their professional lives?”.

The arts and science and math have been divergent streams in India. STEM teaches creative thinking. Yet, it doesn’t allow students to express their natural curiosity through free-thinking. This has been a key takeaway from the arts and hence, has led STEM to include Art. Thus evolving into STEAM.

“Today’s education system does not focus enough on teaching children to solve real-world problems and is not interdisciplinary, nor collaborative enough in its approach.”

Naveen Jain, Entrepreneur, Founder of the Innovation Institute and Author of Schools Out for Summer: Rethinking Education for the 21st Century.
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The Magic of STEAM Education

According to The STEAM Journal, “STEAM modes of learning make students more creative, and more empathetic. Creativity and empathy lead to happiness.” and continues to state that, “The same brain pathways that light up when students feel empathy light up when students are using art in school”. “When students are allowed to express their own individual creativity and what is really true for them through their work, they begin to identify with it. The true magic of STEAM education is that it allows all students to identify with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” STEAM encourages creativity, collaboration, and communication at a larger and more regular level than STEM, forming the basis for innovation (which in turn leads to a stronger economy) through the exploration of different fields. 

Advantages of STEAM

Universally, the arts have complimented math and science. India Today’s article states, “The biggest advantage of adopting STEAM or experiential learning methodology is that the evaluation process becomes transparent and it takes the child into the process of self-discovery. STEAM enables children to build solutions with tangible outcomes.” Hindustan Times’ article by Amit Verma says, “STEAM covers life-skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving as core and helps in the overall development of a child. These skills prepare children for the future which we can’t predict today. The introduction of the STEAM education domain will be the beginning of a new era making all of us look at learning and exploring things a distinct way.”

“…the imaginative tools used in the arts are critical to the humanities and the sciences, they deserve support not just for their own sake but for the sake of education as a whole. Math, science, and technology have flourished in the past only when and where all the arts have flourished. They will flourish or fail together in the future”.

Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People by Root-Bernstein and Root-Bernstein
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The future of STEAM … STREAM?

The Limitations of STEAM Education

The Huffington Post identifies the limitations of STEAM education with this question, “How do we expect our future employees to be able to compete in science, technology, engineering, the arts or math without putting a major emphasis on the critical need to be able to read, comprehend and write?” Hence, highlighting the importance of reading and writing skills – commonly known as literacy skills, making the case for cross-curricular STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Arts, and Math).

R for Reading and Writing in STREAM

This excerpt from Psychology Today complements this further by saying, “Writing, like any other art, teaches the entire range of “tools for thinking” that are required to be creative in any discipline.” “To be a lucid writer, one must observe acutely; abstract out the key information; recognize and create patterns; use analogies and metaphors to model in words some reality that takes place in another dimension; translate sensations, feelings and hunches into clearly communicable forms; and combine all this sensual information into words that create not only understanding but also delight, remorse, anger, desire or any other human emotion that will drive understanding into action.”

Teaching STREAM

Hence, we can see the paradigm shift in Indian education as we seek to improve the employability of millennials in jobs such as digital marketing, which for example was unheard of in the 19th and 20th centuries. As Naveen Jain has correctly pointed out from a teacher’s perspective, “We also need to allow children to solve real-world problems using an interdisciplinary approach in a collaborative manner. Students must be offered multiple curriculum options to allow them to learn in a way that suits their individual learning style while still aiming for mastery of the same subject matter. By embracing these challenges as an opportunity to rethink education, we can apply creative solutions such as flexible learning schedules, multidisciplinary initiatives and multiple curriculum offerings to allow students to learn in a way that best matches their individual learning style”.

STREAM-ing Forward

Jennifer Gunn reiterates this in her blog, “success lies in adjusting our larger policies and testing structures” because “We can’t entirely change what’s happening in the classroom without accounting for changing our testing and accountability measures.” As parents, we need to ensure our children are able to discover and realize their true potential through the balance of right and left brain activities, engaging children thoroughly, so that perhaps learning could replace the parallel ecosystem of distractions, shorter attention spans, and infobesity predominant in ‘Gen-Z’.

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