Education is about more than curriculum and testing. But it seems in this austerity-economics-driven-world that schools are more and more being treated as big businesses that need to show bang for their buck. What “evidence” driven approaches to education do not consider is that education is about humans and humans are far more complex than the pieces of paper that are taken as evidence to define their education experience.
Education is a vast ecosystem. Reducing attention to one part of education, whether it be STEM, a curriculum topic, standardised testing, funding debates, or teacher training risks continuing a misconception that helps no one. It’s throwing attention around. Creating binaries where people jump on the bandwagons that speak to their lives the most. Distracting attention from the devastation these debates can cause to the fragile ecosystem of education.
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) drive is a well known example of this. In a rapidly digitalising world, we need more and more people capable of working in STEM. This is not a blog about disagreeing with the STEM approach. It’s inevitable. That boat has sailed and there is no denying it.
But there is still wriggle room for redefining STEM.
Let me say that I’m actually quite skeptical about STEAM so I won’t buy into this acronym just yet. STEAM, to me, still suggests a hierarchy of disciplines. Why should the Arts “help” STEM steamroll (ha ha) the usefulness of other disciplines? Why should it be simply a tack on? In my book, it should be The Arts (including the Social Sciences) and STEM working together as equals to find authentic, real world solutions (or better questions).
Noel Gough writes quite passionately about the fallacious logic of applying one system of analysis to another system. He says that there are problems with applying one set of rules to another within the Sciences; so can you imagine the false conclusions that can be drawn when Arts analysis is applied to STEM?
Gough also criticises the reductive nature of most curricula. He writes about how Biology curriculum may require the teaching of the life cycle of the malaria parasite but ignore the mass human devastation the parasite causes.
Where the curriculum “cuts” itself out of the world is an ethical consideration. My life as a Humanities and Social Science (HASS) curriculum leader was spent in tension with Science. Policy demanded more attention be given to STEM and the time to pay that attention was stripped from HASS, the Arts and PE. I always argued that more STEM cannot make more scientists. It’s a logical fallacy.
Let’s take the malaria parasite as an analogy. A Science class that concentrates on the life-cycle of the parasite for 210 minutes per week is rarely going to motivate more students to study microbiology. But a science class that works with a Geography class to learn about the global impact of malaria may inspire students that microbiologists are a need. That’s an extra 210 minutes per week on STEM being used to solve a major crisis and probably leading to a far greater likelihood of students studying the sciences because of an understanding of the difference that can be made.
But am I going to “cut” the analysis of STEM recruitment at Year 12? Working in STEM is far more complex than simply knowing the stuff. Science labs are traditionally very difficult for women who tend to culturally be the people who come in and out of the lab to engage in family care at the beginning and end of lives. There is a perception that women do not thrive in technology driven jobs. Engineering finds it difficult to keep women because of reported misogyny. Maths has a major cultural misunderstanding in that it is often only seen to be relevant in relation to the sciences; a necessary evil for getting into a science, tech or engineering course.
STEM has social issues that Social Scientists and other Arts practitioners can help solve.
Being mindful about what we cut away and holding ourselves ethically accountable for those cuts may be a way forward.