Monday, 18 January 2016


The STEM movement was borne out of an initiative of the US National Science Foundation, to promote the quality of science education in order to address a practical problem in US society, namely that the US economy was experiencing a shortage of technically skilled workers. STEM education programmes set out to improve the quality of high school teaching in these areas, and thus provide a work force equipped with the technical skills and knowledge required for the C21.
The STEM movement never argued that the humanities and creative subjects were not important, rather it set out to address an imbalance within society. 
STEM initiatives in the UK
An examination of UK undergraduate admissions illustrates the need for STEM initiatives. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data for 2013-14 (most recent available at the time of writing) 45.1% of first degree undergraduates are studying science subjects (as defined by UCAS and HESA categories). A subject breakdown f the 1,533,855 first degree undergraduates in the UK shows:
  • Mathematics  35,570 (2.3%)
  • Physical Sciences  71,080 (4.6%)
  • Engineering  106,065 (6.9%)
  • Architecture  31,160 (2.0%) 
Full Data Table available at the end of the article
The fact remains that relatively few undergraduates in the UK are studying Mathematics and Physical Sciences as their first degree. (In fact these figures may be even worse of the UK economy than these statistics suggest, given the high proportion of overseas undergraduates studying sciences).  This has a double impact, both for society and for education.
The Royal Society paper The Science and Mathematics Teaching Workforce (2013) puts forward comprehensive evidence for the need for the active promotion of teaching as a career path, particularly for Mathematics and the Physical Sciences to halt a potential cycle of decline in the quality of STEM teaching in the UK. On this basis 
STEAM initiatives are to some extent a reaction to the STEM movement, seeking to redress a balance in education that does not prioritise STEM at the expense of the humanities, languages and creative subjects. However, with the exception of languages, these subjects are buoyant as the HESA data shows. Of the 842,560 (54.9%) first degree undergraduates in the UK who are studying other subjects:
  • Business and Administrative Studies  205,285 (13.4%)
  • Social Studies 147,570 (9.6%)
  • Creative Arts and Design  139,035 (9.1%)
  • Languages  88,680 (5.8%)
In the UK, at least STEM initiatives are particularly important part to play to address what is a considerable imbalance in society.

STEM v STEAM in the Middle and Far East
The STEM v STEAM debate has a different complexion in the Middle and Far East as here a much more utilitarian and practical approach to education is the norm. These fast-growing economies have a pressing need to for technically trained graduates to drive change. Here engineers and scientists are valued and remunerated accordingly.
In this context, STEAM initiatives that seek to temper the STEM drive, by promoting the importance of creativity are much needed, once again, to address an imbalance within society.

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