How perceptions of science influence the future of STEM programs

The STEM struggle

While many are in support of STEM education, most adults are looking to the next generation for action

  • Education is the source of many great discoveries, and nowhere is this more apparent than across STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). But some people are unaware or indifferent to the impact science has on their everyday lives. Without that impact, scientific curiosity can’t thrive. And in the absence of curiosity, innovation happens at a slower pace. When science education is taken for granted, it can have a negative domino effect.

    In fact, 27 percent of adults globally don’t see the point of needing to understand science now. This belief is even higher in emerging countries like China (45 percent), India (44 percent), Saudi Arabia (38 percent) and Mexico (31 percent). However, when you ask adults about their interest in STEM education for their children, a different story appears.

  • Parents are quick to write off their own abilities, but not their children’s. Almost all parents (92 percent) want their kids to know more about science. In North America (US and Canada), the percentage increases to a whopping 96 percent. Even 82 percent of people around the world would encourage kids to pursue a career in science. Clearly, the pressure is on the next generation to push science forward.

    Rather than viewing science as a one-dimensional field of study, STEM integrates analytical thinking to teach young learners about formulas and processes. In recent years, teachers, companies and even celebrities have called for increased investment in STEM education to keep students competitive later in life. When it comes to reinforcing the impact of science education, it starts early and often.

    If given a chance to start a career in any field of study today, almost a quarter of people would choose business, three times more than those who would choose physical science subjects such as chemistry. This comes as no surprise given the amount of screen time given to stories of financial success driven by business careers. Turn on the TV and you’ll find countless shows about entrepreneurship or stock investments, and fewer stories about scientific disciplines. 

  • This may also be due to the perception that traditional science careers aren’t satisfying, or that genius-level intellect is required. For many scientists, their achievements are largely under the radar, with only major breakthroughs, like space exploration and solar energy, receiving widespread attention.

  • Gitanjali Rao, winner of the 2017 DE3MYSC, gets a hands-on lesson in custom graphic wraps

    Engineering and medicine only see moderate levels of perceived satisfaction (both at 17 percent). However, when we dive deeper into the data, an interesting trend emerges; women are more likely than men to be interested in medicine (20 percent vs. 14 percent) and life sciences (15 percent vs. 10 percent)—fields which typically lack gender parity. With inspirational movements aimed at females, such as Girls in STEM, Girls Who Code, Step Up and Lean In. It’s easier than ever for young minds to feel supported by communities of role models.

    At 3M, we partner with Discovery Education annually for the Young Scientists Challenge. Students in grades 5-8 demonstrate ways to solve the world’s greatest challenges with scientific thinking. “Nothing inspires me more than seeing the next generation of young scientists using their talent and creativity to solve societal issues,” said Jayshree Seth, Corporate Scientist and Chief Science Advocate (CSA) at 3M.

    This type of project-based learning is an effective way to help students expand their ideas of what science can achieve—and this is of particular importance in light of the fact that when asked about the most effective ways to convince students to pursue a career in science, the number one way is helping pupils understand how science can improve the world (33 percent).

  • To help solve the STEM struggle, there are two key ways that can make scientific careers more convincing. Introducing career opportunities and mentorship/work opportunities (31 percent and 29 percent, respectively) could help students embark on lifelong professions in science. Adult scientists could teach children about unique professions, effectively plant a seed that blossoms along their educational journey. STEM is such an omnipresent topic that all students need to be aware of the jobs and leaders who can further their development. The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” rings true here: Children need more access, interest in and awareness of STEM at home, in school and in the media.


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