When the Raytheon Corp. asked middle school students if they’d rather eat broccoli or do math homework, 56% preferred the green vegetable. While this may be good news for healthy eating, it is not good news for a healthy economy, according to a recent column — Math skills needed for future workforce — in The Republican.
“In a state, and indeed a nation, where we are competing in a technology driven global economy, this is humorous – but mostly troubling. Projections of both the state and national economies show that the jobs of the future will require competencies in science, technology, engineering and math – the so-called STEM disciplines,” write JD Chesloff, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care, and Larry Maier, president of Westfield-based Peerless Precision Inc.
“Yet according to a recent study by McKinsey & Co., STEM positions are the hardest for employers to fill, with fewer degrees being awarded in STEM than other areas, such as business, humanities and social sciences. If kids would rather eat broccoli than do math, it is no wonder.”
Although Massachusetts students perform “remarkably well” in math and science on state, national and international exams, Chesloff and Maier note, only 37% of high school seniors indicate an interest in careers in STEM on SAT questionnaires. This is well below the national average of 43% and the 47% of students in North Carolina, another tech leader, who indicate an interest in STEM-related careers. “While our students are world leaders in math and science aptitude, they pursue STEM careers in alarming low rates,” Chesloff and Maier write.
A critical part of the answer, they write, comes in bolstering STEM in early education programs. (See our brief Math and Science in Early Learning.)
“There are no greater natural scientists and engineers than young children, inquisitive learners who learn STEM concepts through play. High-quality early learning environments provide children a structure in which to build upon their natural inclination to explore, to build, and to question,” Chesloff and Maier write.
“In fact, research confirms that the brain is particularly receptive to learning math and logic between the ages of 1 and 4. Instilling STEM concepts early is the best way to spark interest later. As the Early Education for All Campaign, organized by Strategies for Children, Inc., points out, high-quality early education provides essential supports for future success in life and in school and is the basis for children’s aptitude in STEM in later years, enhancing future interest in STEM study and careers.
“Early exposure to STEM – whether it be in school, at a museum, a library, or just engaging in the natural trial and error of play – supports children’s overall academic growth, develops early critical thinking and reasoning skills, and makes STEM more interesting — at least more interesting than broccoli.”