Ensure supply meets demand for education

By Bill Wyant

Recently, the story at the fold on the front page of this newspaper featured a growing acronym, STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art, mathematics). It began years ago as STEM. The contention was that we as a nation were not placing enough emphasis on STEM subjects in our education programs.

Adding A (art) was  complementary (math has often been associated with music; technology and engineering with spatial perception, design and visual arts; and science with analysis and critical thinking — the search for knowledge, truth, and ways and means). R (reading) for understanding is a welcome foundation skill and has value in facilitating STEM/STEAM/STREAM.

Continuously adding content to STEM programs, however, poses issues of learning objectives, content integration and resource allocation.

Education seems always to be high on the shopping list when proposing solutions to  problems. But, we often increase our expectations of education without commensurate increases in resources — supply falls short of demand.

Why? The United States of America is, by many measures, the most prosperous and technically advanced society in the world. We lag some developed nations in a few measures of educational achievement and health status; but, our colleges, universities and hospitals attract students, faculty, health care professionals and patients from all over the globe.

We rank high in many economic measures. Our Constitution and system of civil governance are models for new democracies. Our borders are lighthouses signaling opportunity and safety — and occasional rocks and shoals.

But technological, political, social and economic cleavages are fragmenting our polity and our success with averages and medians in some measures fails to paper over widening variances in well being.

In a recent guest commentary, Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, described a joint venture with WVU and West Virginia’s state 4-H program for an expanded program, STEM-CARE.

Writing “… STEM learning is useful for everyone, not just future lab scientists. Its foundational, problem-solving skills are important for just about any adult …” suggests that though not everyone needs to plan a career in STEM disciplines, the complexities of modern economic, political and social life in our communities, country and world require a little more than casual mention of STEM for success in all careers and in life.

The melding of an international corporation, a state land-grant university and an outreach program that reaches into every county in West Virginia with an activity aimed at “inspiring children to reimagine their futures by true and meaningful exposure to STEM-CARE” is a step in the right direction.

We have a two-tier public education system designed to provide STEM knowledge at two levels: 1) as part of the general school core curriculum leading to a knowledgeable citizenry capable of living and coping with science and technology in a diverse and rapidly changing world and fulfilling the dream of a democratic republic of free people; and 2) to prepare highly knowledgeable men and women to provide us with practicing professionals and cutting-edge research and development in a chaotic and complex world of specialized technology and science that many of us today can barely imagine and may not ever understand.

Let us build and maintain our public education system to achieve levels of investment in human resources commensurate with the responsibilities we assign  it.

Max De Pree, a CEO who put human-centered, problem solving design at the heart of the company he served for 40 years, advised, “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”

Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, said, “Perfection is not attainable; but, if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

There was a time when we believed that progress depends upon the capabilities of our people. Who knows: Provided opportunities to achieve their potential, some might catch resolutions to crucial technical, political, social and economic issues that trouble us today.

Bill Wyant  lives in Morgantown. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.

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