Stepping it up in STEM education: Q and A with David E. Drew

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In a high-tech global economy, few people dispute the need for Americans to excel in fields that will help them compete in the world market. In “STEM the Tide: Reforming Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education in America,” Claremont graduate professor of education Dr. David E. Drew tells us why the U.S. underperforms in these critical areas and suggests ways to get back on track.

Why does America perform poorly in STEM education?
The main reason is that we don’t support or respect our teachers as much as other countries do. In countries that out-perform ours, being a teacher is a higher-status job. They have much more professional development, and they’re paid more. Fifty years ago, our underperformance didn’t matter that much. Now, we have a high-tech information economy, so you need different kinds of skills. You’re competing not only against the person from the next town, but with people around the world.

What are our strengths?
Ironically, even though we have a weak K-12 system, we have one of the strongest higher education systems in the world. In the U.S., we believe in giving people second and third chances. Many countries have rigid structures where you take a test before you’re 18 and they tell you what you’ll be doing when you’re 45. Our system is more consistent with human nature.

How can we change the way we think about STEM achievement?
Other countries teach these subjects to everybody, and they succeed. Let me give you a metaphor: Every parent looks forward to the day their newborn will one day learn language. It is a complex cognitive task, but every person in our society does it. That’s how we should be looking at STEM education.

How will liberal arts education fit into the new economy?
I think it’s vital. We must have a cultural context, a historical context and a philosophical context in which we apply technology.  There have been too many instances of masterful technological achievements that have wrought havoc on society. We’ve got to be able to merge values with technologies.


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