For the last month, the science policy group I belong to has been discussing K-12 STEM education. The United States’ scoring on international achievement tests has been falling since the 70s. You can look over the data for the most recent evaluation by PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) here. For all of our posturing as the most powerful country in the world, we are failing to give our children a competitive education. How do we turn the ship around and teach our children to think critically and help them prepare for a life in a rapidly advancing society?
The answer isn’t so obvious. As a biological science PhD familiar with the current job market (or lack thereof), it is tempting to say “Let’s get scientists teaching science!”. While many PhD scientists are qualified and great teachers, there are many more that would be teaching disasters. I also think the problem starts earlier than high school where presumably these PhD scientists would be most qualified to teach.
Kids need to be exposed to and excited by science early and often. Many times primary education teachers aren’t familiar with scientific concepts and are not confident in teaching them. We need to find a way to incentivize majoring in science and education (wages!!). Right now with a Bachelor’s in a scientific discipline, you can earn much more working everywhere other than education.
In order to learn to think critically, it is important that students are offered opportunities to learn by guided inquiry. Too many schools are simply asking kids to memorize, regurgitate and forget. The current culture of “teaching to the test” is undermining student’s potential.
Is there one best way to solve the problem? No. But we have to start somewhere before we find ourselves in a country where nobody has been trained well enough to function in our highly technical society.