Education & Skilling

The battle for betterment: Is STEM really taking over the arts?

In an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition, it’s true that we need more children and teenagers gaining an interest in STEM fields (for those who may not know, STEM subjects are science, technology, engineering, and maths). However, this idea has come under fire recently, as a well-known Washington Post columnist has stated that we also should be focusing on the arts in order to make STEM richer.

light bulbIf a STEM centre in the US is to receive US$130, 000 worth in grants, it is fair to say that STEM within that university is highly valued. The Cornell University Centre for the Integration of Research is preparing for the future of their STEM faculty by investing heavily into it. Not only will the centre be receiving investment of $130K upwards, there will be heavy investment into expanding the programming at the university while also creating initiatives to share best-practices in future faculty development.

Further, another US based university has created a new centre known as the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NE MI GLSI), which has allowed students to engage in E-STEM projects including water quality monitoring, habitat restoration, biodiversity conservation and many other important environmental issues.

Many people in this area agree that it is immensely important to encourage interest in STEM, even starting at the K-12 level. Research has shown that, although universities are giving STEM courses priority, there are high levels of student attrition and what may be seen to be gender inequality in these areas. In a study conducted in 2013, it was estimated that 48% of bachelor students and 69% of associate degree students left their STEM degree within a few months. The debate on gender is a complex one and will be left for another day, but you can read about student attrition here.

All these factors together may be seen to demonstrate that STEM is in need of investment and development across the globe in order to ensure these areas have enough talent to encourage innovation moving into the future. But there is one columnist who writes for the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria, who states that it isn’t STEM that is important for flourishing innovation, but it is English and Philosophy that play just as big a part. This idea was supported by Steve Jobs who has been quoted as advocating for an even mix of both STEM and the humanities, he states:

SteveJobsCloseUp_zps7dcedad5“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that its technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

In his article titled ‘America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous’, Fareed explains that training students in one specific area is harmful as creating an emphasis on science takes away the value of gaining an education in liberal arts. You can read further into his argument here.

Forbes contributor Chad Orzel disagrees with Fareeds argument stating that science, as well as English and Philosophy, is part of what it is to be human. He states:

“The biggest problem I have with this whole line of argument is the way it sets science off as something alien, the classic example of which is the branding of arts and literature as “the humanities,” as if other fields are inherently inhuman. STEM disciplines are implicitly set off as something that isn’t an intrinsic part of “the human condition,” which Zakaria urges everyone to study. But, in fact, there are very few activities more essentially and intrinsically human than science.”

He continues: “The third meaning of “science,” though, is the process by which scientific discoveries are made, and that, to my mind, is the most important and fundamental definition. And science as a process is an activity as old as the human species– as far back as we have evidence of the existence of humans, we see signs of people doing science.”

It’s fair to say that choosing to focus on one area while neglecting the other would not help to foster innovation in any cohesive sense. Steve Jobs seems to have been able to thrive by creating a unique balance between science and technology, and the arts. Maybe what we are lacking instead, is people who are able to marry the two successfully. Let us know what you think! Is STEM really going to take over the arts, will the arts take over STEM, or will we need to find synergy between the two rather than creating a dichotomy?

The 2nd Annual STEM Education Conference will be highlighting many of the key challenges in this area and it will create a forum for discussion on how best STEM can be developed. Australia has its own unique challenges, and the STEM conference will focus on ways to expand and improve Australia’s global positioning in design and technology. You can find all details relating to this event here.

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