Posted by DrJeff
Copyright 2009 | About this blog
Addressing the Crisis in Science and Technology Education—
American Competitiveness, and Inspiring Our Next Generation
of Scientists and Engineers
Dear Mr. President—
At a time when there is a great disparity in educational preparedness for students across America…
At a time when it should be the birthright of all students to an education that allows them to successfully enter the job markets of the 21st century…
At a time when America must inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers if we as a nation are to compete in the emerging technology markets of the 21st century…
A Benchmark Call to Action
Goldman Sachs projects that the combined economies of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) can surpass those of the G6 in just 40 years. Long term strategic planning to ensure U.S. competitiveness into the future is required now. In this context, the engineers entering the job market in just ten years are now in 6th grade. Science education that can captivate and inspire, deliver on curricular requirements and national benchmarks, and target even elementary school grades, is now of national strategic importance.
In the classroom, teachers particularly at the elementary school level—the most critical grades for science education—have limited training in the process of scientific inquiry, often leading to science taught as a dry book of knowledge to be memorized, and children denied ownership in the process and joys of exploration (see The Power of Models.) The result—our students sour on science and mathematics. At the school district level, the science curriculum as written often promotes a focus on content memorization rather than conceptual understanding, and teaching to the test in the classroom—if there is a science curriculum. And students often don’t get the chance to interact and engage with a real scientist or engineer who can share the very human, very personal stories of exploration. Science is a journey, not a book of knowledge, and it is the human journey that inspires the next generation. In this vein we as a nation must work to elevate scientists and engineers as heroes and role models, and allow them to instill in audiences a sense of national pride in what individuals can aspire to achieve by embracing the joys of learning.
The education of a child is also far more than what happens in the classroom. It is a holistic experience. It takes place at home with parents and family, and at local sites like a museum or science center with experiences tied to unique assets. And education is life long—which means parent and child can take a journey together.
A powerful and comprehensive approach to science education should therefore derive from a core belief—that it takes a community to educate a child, and a national network of communities to reach a generation.
A Coherent Approach
It is now time to promote—at the community level—coordinated and sustainable science education that engages all stakeholders: school districts, museums/science centers, universities, businesses, civic organizations, local government, teachers, parents and local scientists and engineers. Science education where the whole is greater than the sum of the programmatic or organizational parts, and where local teams of organizations can take on the challenge, guided by national resources.
This is not just big vision. It is straightforward. It has been done with demonstrated success as a test-bed for 10 years. In each community a National Team of scientists, engineers, and educators: inspire thousands of students, parents, and teachers; train educators district-wide on concept-focused inquiry-based lessons that are adoptable as the curriculum, and on recipes for effective science in the classroom; work directly with school districts to customize programming and content to local strategic needs in STEM education; and deliver programming systemically across entire school systems. Programs at the fundamental level are designed to provide an authentic window on science as a human endeavor, using sustainable educational programming to both inspire…and educate.
Mr. President, these are philosophies and capabilities in resonance with the views held by your Administration. We stand ready and willing to assist.
Jeff Goldstein, Ph.D., Center Director
National Center for Earth and Space Science Education