Why the U.S. is falling behind
by Adam Hostetter/Sports & Entertainment
In the past the United States was known for being a leader in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. Indeed, the U.S. was the world leader in these fields of innovation and development. But the times have changed, and the world has caught up and surpassed the U.S.
The National Science Foundation found the U.S. ranked 20 among all nations in in the world in 2008 for the proportion of 24-year-olds with degrees in STEM fields. That figure is not a bright one, and does not seem to be improving since then.
For a better understanding, Jeff White, a professor here at Lake Land College, explains that STEM fields, such as biology, chemistry and mechanical engineering “…help us understand our natural world and the ways we affect it. They (STEM fields) help us design safe and efficient buildings and cars. They help us understand human life and medical conditions that affect us. They helped us create all of the electronic devices and games we use for work and play. They help us create new technologies which will protect our people and our country.”
All answers lie within the education system. As White elaborates, “schools are judged today by how well their students score on standardized tests, so the focus today is to teach students how to do problems they will see on those tests—not to prepare them for their future.” This focus on test scores rather than real-life preparation is cause for some serious concern. “We’re not teaching students to be able to apply what they know in order to develop new ideas by thinking critically and questioning,” White argues, but he admits that the current state and federal mandates, such as No Child Left Behind, award desperately needed funding to schools based on the standardized test scores.
The real issue in this is not that the sciences are falling behind, but rather they are not sparking interest in the students. Most students see science questions on some of these standardized tests and forget about the entire topic once the tests are over. White believes that “we spend too much time in classes speaking in hypothetical terms and doing hypothetical problems instead of using real-life examples.” In addition to that, White also thinks that “schools should also do more to tell students about the career options in STEM fields and show students how much money they can earn in jobs in these fields compared to other ‘easier’ jobs.”