Education for Tomorrow
With the beginning of the new school year, the Ministry of Education has launched its “Education Month” programme. It is an ambitious one – under the theme “Transforming Guyana through Science and Technology in Education.”
We are certain that all Guyanese would agree that this is the way to go and would be supportive of the programme. Our educational system is slowly becoming reoriented from the British one we inherited and which was based on producing ‘scholars and gentlemen’ but we have only scratched the surface.
But in our quest to create an education package that is more relevant to the demands of the 21st century, we are not alone. In fact, we have some surprising company: the US, for one. Late last year, two major reports were released there that discussed the current crisis in what they defined as ‘STEM education’ – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In language reminiscent of critiques of our educational travails, the reports – by their National Science Board (NSB) and their President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) reported “alarming facts and figures about the United States’ position in the global knowledge economy.”
For instance, The NSB reported that only 16 percent of U.S. undergraduates chose majors in natural science and engineering, which is lower than students in the European Union (25%), South Korea (38%), and China (47%). Ours numbers are probably even more abysmal – so their proposals should hopefully resonate with our educators.
PCAST’s recommendations focus on bettering STEM education across the board; NSB, however, while recognizing that improving overall STEM education is a noble goal and should be pursued, also argues that we should put a greater emphasis on identifying and developing STEM talent. Both groups do agree, as evidenced in their recommendations, that immersing students in STEM fields should begin at a young age. If educators can spark the interest of younger students, the logic seems to imply, they will be more likely to follow through with a STEM-related education when they are older.
PCAST’s major recommendation – to create a “STEM Master Teachers Corps” – is especially intriguing. The Master Teacher Corps would recognize and reward the top five percent of the nation’s STEM teachers. Teachers in the Master Corps would receive salary supplements and additional funds for their schools’ programmes and activities. Such a programme will encourage current STEM educators to constantly reflect upon and improve their instructional strategies, which is always important if we are to move forward.
PCAST’s focus on scholastic and extracurricular activities is another strength of the report. Their goal is to vastly increase STEM schools over the next decade. STEM schools encourage scientific inquiry and give students opportunities to learn more about STEM fields than they would perhaps receive at a traditional school.
The NSB report, on the other hand, focused on tactics for improving general STEM education –‘Identifying and Developing our Nation’s Human Capital,’as their subtitle stated. Their three Keystone Recommendations are designed to foster exceptional STEM talent. Their goals, the NSB argues, will provide opportunities and motivation for exceptionally bright students to pursue excellence in STEM fields without sacrificing the education of other learners. NSB breaks down its recommendations into three general areas: (1) Providing opportunities for excellence, (2) Casting a wide net, and (3) Fostering a supportive ecosystem.
While the first recommendation seems obvious, the second noted that “the U.S. education system too frequently fails to identify and develop our most talented and motivated students who will become the next generation of STEM innovators”. This is so true for Guyana. NSB’s final recommendation was designed to ‘nurture and celebrate excellence and innovative thinking,’ and called for parents, professionals, educators, and students to “work together to create a culture that expects excellence, encourages creativity, and rewards the successes of all students…”.
It proposed several concrete steps to create such a culture, including a national campaign to increase the appreciation of academic excellence and encouraging the creation of positive school environments. Maybe there are some lessons here for us?