Jamaican youth are adding steam to STEM

Climate change, growing global populations and improving the world economy are areas of primary concern today, and Caribbean educators and policymakers have paid attention. They are trying to give Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) a more fundamental role in the educational experience of students.

To successfully transition into the world of work, youth need to be equipped with basic scientific and technological skills — regardless of whether or not they will have STEM-related careers.

Over the years, students have not made any great effort to venture into science and technology at the Caribbean Secondary Education Council (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) levels, as the subjects are considered difficult and teachers have often been described as inadequate.

“After examining 953 public primary and secondary schools between September 2010 and March 2015, teaching in support of learning was regarded as good in six per cent of the schools inspected and unsatisfactory in 44 per cent,” according to a 2015 baseline report of the Jamaica National Education Inspectorate.

The Caribbean Centre for Competitiveness also found in 2014 that the availability of adequately trained teachers in mathematics and key science subjects remains a concern in the region. These trends have created challenges as universities across the Caribbean have consistently produced more graduates in non-STEM rather than in STEM-related fields, reiterating the lack of STEM identity among the majority of students leaving secondary level education.

Despite this lack of interest on the part of students, STEM education is important in supporting a modern workforce. Different initiatives and programs have as a result been implemented to rekindle interest and improve the performance of the youth in pure and applied sciences.

Sagicor Visionaries Challenge was launched in 2013 and pushes secondary school students to develop sustainable solutions to the challenges facing them. Its primary goals are to boost institutional capacity in STEM in high schools, ignite interest among youth for innovation in STEM and to integrate formal and informal knowledge to enable tomorrow’s leaders to build more sustainable communities.

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The MICO University’s STEM training camp is another initiative that has sought to introduce STEM-based methodologies to address teaching and learning challenges within the education sector. The camps are designed to generate an overall awareness of science and technology while offering volunteers the opportunity to share their professional and personal experience as role models, which helps to foster a positive learning environment.

Digicel’s Mobile Science Labs have also helped to alleviate the recurring challenges of space, resources and technology that Jamaica’s education sector faces. These low-cost laboratories provide a simple yet useful approach where schools can convert any space into a scientific environment with tools that may be used across physics, biology and chemistry.

While these programs have made a commitment to provide opportunities for the youth to be engaged in projects with a scientific and technological background, there is an increasing interest for coupling these subjects with the arts, a concept termed S.T.E.A.M. This approach seeks to utilize these disciplines as access points for promoting inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking among students.

STEAM intends to power STEM to the next level by allowing students to remove limitations, replacing them with innovation, design principles and standards that in turn produce students who take calculated risks, engage in experiential learning and embrace collaboration. The GraceKennedy Foundation through its STEM center has adopted the objectives of STEAM and is creatively utilizing the arts to tap into the unlimited potential of our country’s youth.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV