October 2013

SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE LEARNING: The High Cost of Dropping Science and Math

A few weeks ago I received feedback from a colleague on the SSHRC grant I was writing. The person who reviewed my grant (and I am grateful for it) asked me why it even matters that Canada produces its own scientists and engineers instead of importing scientists and engineers from abroad. I (who in someways is an “imported STEM professional”) was surprised to hear this question. Didn’t we see how much the lack of homegrown talent cost us already? Yes, I am an imported STEM professional, but my kids are growing up in Canada and I want them to be competitive, I want them to be as well (if not better) educated as the kids who grow up in other countries… I want our children to drive Canadian innovation, to put Canada on the world map not just as a resource- reach country, but a country that has a human capital, the generation of people who are interested in STEM and capable of filling the jobs we need to fill…

Hasn’t Blackberry – one of the very few world-class innovative companies Canada has produced – showed us how much it means to have high-tech companies in our own country? I remember listening to Mike Lazaridis’s presentation at AAAS conference almost two years ago – he got into it thanks to an amazing science teacher he had in high school: . However, in order to have these companies, we have lots of people being capable to generate these amazing ideas – we have to raise the level of STEM education in the country.  Do we want to continue rely on our natural resources and continue not to invest into our education? As of now, I do not think that we are taking care of our children’s education the way we should – and I am not just blaming them – the government, the population, the parents, …  I am part of the system, as I educate future teachers and I keep thinking about this problem continuously… I keep thinking why in Canada teaching is not valued as much as it should? Why our schools are under-equipped in terms of technology, resources, staff? When will we realize that the best and the smartest people should become teachers – but we have to make sure as a society that they are rewarded accordingly and given opportunities for growth? How come we know we have teachers who are not doing a good job and we cannot do anything about it? How do we balance accountability and freedom (the same question applies to university profs as well)? How come a tiny country like Finland or like Singapore can figure it out and we cannot? These questions bother me day and night (which is probably not a good thing if you have a family… but this is who I am). While thinking about it, I decided to Google the 50 most innovative countries in the world. And where are we there on that list? This is just for fun – take a look for yourself and decide if we do need high quality STEM education in our country:

50. South Africa;  49. Belarus; 48. Macedonia; 47. Iran; 46. Romania; 45. Argentina; 44.Latvia; 43. Bulgaria; 42. Ukraine; 41. Greece; 40 Tunisia; 39. Malta; 38. Malaysia; 37. Turkey; 36. Hong-Kong; 34.Croatia; 34. Slovakia; 33. Lithuania; 32. Israel; 31. Estonia; 30. Poland; 29.China; 28. New Zealand; 27. Spain; 26. Hungary; 25. Portugal; 24. Italy; 23. Czech Republic; 22. Australia; 21. Switzerland; 20. Iceland; 19. Slovenia; 18. UK; 17. Canada; 16. Luxembourg; 15. Belgium; 14. Russia; 13. Norway; 12. Ireland; 11. Netherlands; 10. France; 9. Denmark; 8. Austria; 7. Singapore; 6. Japan; 5. Sweden; 4.Finland; 3.Germany;2.South Korea; 1. USA

And now think if we want to be 17th and keep relying on our natural resources while other countries do the technological breakthroughs or if we want to be among the top 10 countries that lead the innovation worldwide? Notice, we are lagging behind countries that are much smaller and less abundant in natural resources than us (maybe it is the reason they have to be innovative?)…

The resent report by Let’s Talk Science give a very eloquent and evidence-based answer to this question about why STEM education matters: “SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE LEARNING: The High Cost of Dropping Science and Math”.  It will cost Canada too much to have a lack of locally grown STEM experts and it also means that we are denying our own students high-paying jobs. I quote:

Spotlight on Science Learning: The High Cost of Dropping Science and Math is the latest research report from Let’s Talk Science, made possible by Amgen Canada. This research reveals that the economic impact of dropping science, technology and math courses in high school is costing Canada much more than anticipated. From the financial costs associated with making up lost courses, to the opportunity costs associated with lost future earnings, to the societal costs associated with reduced innovation in Canada and unfilled jobs due to incompatible skills – we all lose when science, technology and math education is not pursued.

To download a copy of Spotlight on Science Learning – The High Cost of Dropping Science and Math right click on the image below and hit ‘save link as’To view this report in your browser, click here.

To view/download the executive summary, click here.

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