Last month at Governor Fallin's STEM Conference — the first-ever Oklahoma-wide event of its type to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in our state — the audience heard alarming statistics.
Although the job market is increasingly requiring STEM-educated students, only 25 percent of high school graduates pursue STEM studies; only 15 percent earn a STEM-focused degree. Of those, less than 10 percent enter into a STEM-related career.
In Oklahoma, although more than 50,000 students enroll in STEM subjects, just over 5,000 typically graduate in STEM-focused disciplines.
STEM coursework, whether it be at the college level or through a CareerTech program, is demanding and rigorous. Students have to come prepared. They can't simply decide to become scientists, computer programmers or engineers when they sign up for their first year and expect to make the grade.
One-quarter of students interested in STEM majors or careers are taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school. That's where they begin to develop the problem-solving disciplines that are so in demand in business today.
But we can't wait until high school to engage our kids in science and technology. We must start much earlier to get and keep them excited and curious.
This job doesn't only fall to our educators and state curriculum. Parents have a big role to play.
We parents should be encouraging our daughters and sons toward STEM subjects and problem solving. We have to find ways to capture their interest and make it fun. We have to demand that our middle through high schools offer robust STEM classes — and we have to be willing to support the effort with our parenting and tax dollars.
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DID YOU KNOW?
Since 2004, the expressed overall interest in STEM majors and careers among high school seniors has increased by more than 20 percent. However, high school seniors are about 10 percent less likely than freshman to indicate interest.