Today's National Post includes a special supplement highlighting STEM education in Canada. The cover features Canada-Wide Science Fair and Team Canada-ISEF alumnus Ben Gulak, as well as an opinion piece by Executive Director Reni Barlow, reproduced below.
The 8-page supplement also features pieces by Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, Bonnie Schmidt, President of Let's Talk Science, and Jennifer Flanagan, President and CEO of Actua.
Addressing Canada’s declining youth STEM engagement:
An urgent and important challenge
Canadian students are good at science, scoring near the top on international assessments of science achievement, but most don't choose senior science courses, eliminating the possibility of STEM-related higher education and careers, and contributing to Canada's low percentage of science and engineering graduates.
But the real challenge, according to a 2010 study, is that the proportion of Canadian youth interested in pursuing a scientific career declines significantly from age 13 to 18.
The study also found that effective teachers make a significant difference in student interest in science, as does student perception that science is fun, inspiring, and important.
So, there's reason for hope - if we can help teachers be more effective, show youth that STEM is serious fun, and engage students no later than middle school.
Children are natural-born scientists, full of wonder and questions. Good STEM education develops these traits and challenges students to develop increasingly sophisticated explanations and solutions, while building a base of knowledge.
Unfortunately, few elementary teachers have a STEM background and many find teaching these subjects intimidating. High school STEM teachers have a background in the subjects, but few have experience in research or engineering - actually doing science.
Youth Science Canada’s Smarter Science initiative helps K-12 teachers move beyond the delivery of content by integrating inquiry activities into their lessons. Students are more engaged, better equipped to investigate questions and tackle problems - and they enjoy science.
Most adults underestimate kids' capabilities. Given the opportunity, support, and recognition, Canadian youth do some remarkable science and engineering, as seen at 103 regional science fairs across the country and the annual Canada-Wide Science Fair.
Forget baking soda and vinegar volcanoes. Think instead of a hockey helmet that prevents concussions, soil bacteria that break down plastics in landfills, or a technique to target and kill cancer cells that avoids the side effects of today's anticancer drugs. All were winning projects by grade 7-12 students in recent fairs.
We assume that students make career choices in high school, but a 2011 study found that most chose whether or not to pursue STEM by the end of grade eight.
With little knowledge of what STEM offers, middle school students are "opting out" when opportunities in the field have never been greater.
A dynamic campaign - featuring young scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs - promoting STEM opportunities to middle school students should be a top priority.
Canada’s innovation and entrepreneurial future depends on it.
Youth Science Canada