For nearly two decades, I’ve worked with the next generation to build a passion for STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. I worked to foster an interest with K-12 students in what a future in STEM might look like for them. The sector is rife with possibility.
As founder and CEO of Stemnasium Learning Academy, I believe that STEM holds immense opportunity given where this sector stands today, and the importance that it will have in our world tomorrow.
It is my belief that we should focus our energy on the youth of today to prepare them for a world they will inherit, and I believe, above all, in the importance of early childhood education to achieve this end. As educators and parents, we should seize the opportunity that stands before us.
Here are three reasons why early childhood education in STEM is integral to laying the yellow brick road to a gilded future. Ready or not, the future will arrive. Early childhood education is how we can embrace it.
First, a need exists for skills in STEM, and the need is expected to grow. STEM employment is expected to grow 8.9 percent between 2014 and 2024, as compared to 6.4 percent for non-STEM employment. Yet the need may outpace the reality of a workforce that currently lacks the skills, interest or both to fill these roles. In less than two years, for example, 1.4 computer science-related jobs are expected to remain unfilled by 2020. The growing demand for STEM skills is outpacing the supply. Will we be ready, or not? An opportunity stands before us to equip today’s students with STEM skills so that a number of them can develop the proficiency and interest to pursue these avenues through higher education.
Indiana is not lost on this reality. The state has introduced programs such as STEM certification for schools, as well as the STEM Teacher Recruitment Fund to secure qualified STEM educators for Indiana schools. So the tools exist. Hoosiers have the state’s support. It only requires that educators exhibit the smarts, the courage and the heart to pursue these invaluable tools in support of the next generation.
Next, STEM offers a tenable solution to childhood poverty. Raise your hand if you are familiar with the Bootstrap Theory, which suggests the possibility of an individual born in dire circumstances to, through sheer will, overcomes improbable odds to lead an economically successful life as an adult? In practice, this theory has not worked consistently, and fails to take into account many variables. Only 16 percent of children who grow up poor (a yearly income of $25,100 for a family of four) escape their circumstances in adulthood. What is unfortunately less alarming is the disproportionate number of children of color impacted by childhood poverty. Almost half, 45 percent, are African-American.
STEM occupations have an average salary of $87,570, almost twice that of a non-STEM job, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These positions offer a realistic solution to childhood poverty, one less dependent on bootstraps and sheer will, and more dependent on an intentional decision to invest in today’s young minds in preparation for a world that will require more hires with STEM skills.
Third, Indiana has the opportunity to invest in the homegrown talent as the state continues to develop into a hub for tech entrepreneurship. Indianapolis is currently on Amazon’s shortlist for its second headquarters, and the acquisition of email marketing company ExactTarget by Salesforce in 2013 put Indianapolis on the map for the city and state’s viability in tech entrepreneurship. Also, with initiatives such as TechPoint, which helped to persuade Indiana’s state legislature to invest in venture capital firms last year, Indiana is certainly laying a foundation for the state to emerge as a tech hub. Again, an opportunity exists for Indiana to create a pipeline that starts as early as K-12 education, and siphon students through the state’s renowned higher education institutions to become the skilled tech employees in coming years.
Will we be prepared? Ready or not, STEM is a sector that is increasing in importance, and will play a significant role in Indianapolis and the United States as time progresses. Let’s invest in one of our most valuable resources, the youth, and provide them with the ammunition to succeed in and shape the world that will, soon enough, rest at their feet.
Tariq Al-Nasir is the founder and CEO of Stemnasium Learning Academy. Stemnasium Learning Academy offers a holistic approach to developing a college-ready path for students. Al-Nasir has earned advanced degrees and certificates from MIT, NYU, Duke and Stanford University.