Is STEM the ROOT of Development?
In almost every country, developed or developing, STEM education is being discussed. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These subjects are said to hold some of the most essential knowledge in the academic, and real-life, everyday, world. Before delving into this topic, I would like to acknowledge that although this is undoubtedly an opinion piece, this is an extremely complex issue that cannot be broken down and resolved through one short article, thus the primary purpose of this piece is to spark some thought and continue a discourse regarding the issue.
The first step in this process is to consider the root of STEM. It is a simple reminder that every stem comes from a root, and that root came from soil, and this sentence could be never ending; it is a reminder of the fundamental interconnectedness of our world. Remember when we were kids and we would play that annoying and eternal game in which we followed every answer with “why?”. It’s like that. Life is like that. This article's role is to consider a social, political problem, not a mathematical equation, and seeing as you, yes you, are reading it, then I assume that you think that social problems are important. But so are science and math problems. That is indeed why this social problem is even being discussed. In essence, what I am trying to say is that subjects are a social construct. They do not exist in nature. So what are we really arguing about? I mean, did you know that "technology" is a combination the two Greek words for "art" and “logic;” it is intrinsically not just a science. Moreover, different skills help us with different things, knowing science can’t make you good at absolutely everything, obviously… or can it? One wise youtube comment once told me “the engineer will work for weeks to solve the problem-the mechanic will fix the fuse.” Different educational backgrounds, talents, and learning opportunities give us different nuanced advantages in this world, however STEM seems to be claiming all of them. Does STEM live up to its hype?
STEM supporters, including the Obama administration, seem to believe that “all young people should be prepared to think deeply and to think well so that they have the chance to become the innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world, both today and tomorrow” and that this is only possible through STEM education (U.S Department of Education). Firstly, I would like to remind us all that all of these fancy sounding positions are still possible with an education that is not STEM. America is worried about its falling scores on international tests. For instance, in the most recent international test, in 2012, out of the thirty-four countries in the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States ranked 27th in math and 20th in Science (Washington Post). However, as the Washington Post points out, the US has never been good at international tests, especially those concerning math and science, and yet their national success has not been hindered by their ability to take tests. The fact is that the U.S is a leader in STEM, in terms of creating some of the most innovative technologies of our time, despite not being able to test well on it (Washington Post). The same pattern occurs in countries such as Israel and Sweden (Washington Post). So yes, people can be “innovators, educators, researchers, and leaders” even if they don’t receive a STEM education, or do well on exams that test STEM knowledge.
Moreover, even if you do receive a STEM education, this does not necessarily mean that you will be and innovator, educator, researcher, or leader - particularly in the current economy - but that’s a different story. At McGill, I see many science students who I do not consider leaders. I also see many arts, management, nursing, engineering, and every other kind of student that I don’t see as leaders. But I think one important thing that I do see, is that in every single subject area, I also see people who are leaders, innovators, and researchers. All the leaders of McGill are not concentrated in one faculty or subject area. However, together, the best leaders from each faculty can work together to develop a better country, and a better world. I know some people who are in sciences, who have told me they knew nothing of basic historical knowledge, or current events, and furthermore, they lack consideration of how their science subjects relate to the social world. For example, how social situations and government policies and budgets can have a significant effect on the scientific progress of our world, and vice versa, how their scientific knowledge, as science students and as future scientists, can bring on significant social change. On March 23rd, 2015, Barack Obama stated that “science is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world (U.S Department of Education)." This is true. That is what science is about. That is also what the social sciences, humanities, and arts are about. There is nothing intrinsic about the subjects of STEM that makes them so special - it is how we teach them that matters. If we begin to teach any subject in the manner that Obama and other STEM supporters describe, we will create more passionate and driven leaders of tomorrow. Right now however, I believe that barely any subject, and definitely not science, is taught in the way it should be. Science in most classrooms has become just “the periodic table, or the properties of waves.” It is taught by the memorization of facts, and when you ask “why?” the answer is just “It’s very complicated and confusing thing that no one really understands, but it’s true, so just do it.” That is not creating many critical-thinking leaders of tomorrow if I may say so myself.
The India STEM Foundation works towards building a STEM educational system with a goal “to create a world where young people are encouraged to celebrate fun and excitement of science and technology, and inspire them to take science and technology-based career paths to become tomorrow’s much needed technology leaders" (India Stem Foundation). Personally, in the world that I see today, technology should not be our highest priority. Undoubtedly, technology has aided us to develop efficiency and it has recently started to aid sustainability and the environment, but it is not as focused on these goals as we naively seem to believe; technology is more focused on entertainment, military weapons, luxuries, and ultimately, the influx of money into the developed world, extracted from the exploitation of natural and human labor resources from the developing world. Our priorities should instead be focused on solving the biggest problems facing developing countries, such as India, which are a lack of good governance, abject poverty, lack of inclusive dialogue, and once again, the continuous exploitation of the people in developing countries by huge corporate companies that use some of the most innovative technology only to benefit developed countries, and not the ones that they are exploiting. Developed countries need to stop acting like we are helping the developing world, when we are really constantly disadvantaging them with our capitalistic endeavors towards more and more money and benefit to ourselves. Just because developed countries use and produce some of the best technology, and are therefore getting higher paid jobs in the market, better standards of living, and so on, that does not necessarily make it a moral nor a realistic endeavor for developing countries, who are stuck in a poverty trap due to our disgusting treatment of them.
Let’s change the world.
Yes, I know that’s pretty unrealistic, but I am serious. Looking around I am so proud to see all of the students who see the importance of good governance and diplomacy in developing a better world. I have strong hopes for my generation-that is part of the generation supposedly falling behind in terms of STEM-to move forward with understanding the ROOT causes of development and changing what actually matters. Instead of weaving around the true problem, trying to find fake solutions and ignoring the developed world's ignorance, I believe we can theorize and put into action a better way. We must remember our past, and therefore create a better, fundamentally different today.
In history, one group has always oppressed another group to gain some form of an advantage. This is not history, this is now. In my last article titled “Death and Other Cruelties By Chocolate”, I told you how the estimated number of slaves in the world today is 20-30 million. I talked about the chocolate industry, which specifically targets slaves in African countries like the Ivory Coast. The World Bank- which was founded in, and whose headquarters are located in the in the US- is also encouraging STEM education to move people out of poverty in Africa. It is financing “19 university-based Centers of Excellence in seven countries in West and Central Africa. These competitively selected centers will receive funding for advanced specialized studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related disciplines, as well as in agriculture and health”(The World Bank). Funny how they are concerned with their health and well being, unless that means they can’t get their favorite Hershey’s chocolate bar, or their iPhone, in that case, it's OK to sacrifice people’s health and well being.
What are the actual impacts of improving STEM education in developing countries anyways? If you know anything about sociology or human geography, you will know that the demographic of those who can afford to attend university in developing nations mostly consists of the male upper class who have likely gained their status through corruption and immoral practices; this would not be helping the people who truly need the help. Moreover, if they do choose to attend these universities, the country is at risk of a brain drain when their graduates decide to leave and start life in a developed nation--once again benefiting us. Even if they were to stay in their own country however, the supposed success of these people will feed an already present notion of the success of males over females as well as undermine other subjects that are intrinsic and important to the world we live in. Finally, if this education is so valued by the western world, the people that gain it will most likely gain high level positions for big western corporations that use cheap labour and resources in the developing world for the gains of the developed world, and most likely cause more and more exploitation. I also ask you, that if increasing STEM education will make developing countries more like developed countries, is that really what we want? Do we want countries in which we have largely supported leaders like Donald Trump? Countries where the average person drinks more than 600 sodas a year, regular school shootings, places that preach equality and rights of minorities while their indigenous people are left in reserves without clean water, and places that claim to help the developing world, while actually feeding off of them to their advantage? There are obviously positive things in developed countries that I have failed to point out, and these vary from country to country, but, development is not confined to the demographic transition model-which claims that there is one single way that all countries will experience development-developing countries can develop into something else, something more nuanced that is best for the demographic of their population, something better, and so can we. I genuinely hope that this is not the end; there is definitely room for development in all countries.
What we need is the leaders of today, no matter what socially constructed subject they have devoted themselves to, to actually think. Honestly, I began writing this with something very different in mind. I planned to do some research on why arts are important too because they can teach you special things like creativity and teach us to understand societies in a way that STEM can’t, but as I began to write, I realized that I simply don’t buy that. It is not about why STEM is bad, or why STEM is not enough, it’s not even really about STEM at all. It is about the deeply knitted fabric of the world we live in that must be changed drastically if we want to see true development. It’s not about what subjects we are educated in, it is how we are educated to think about them. We have to stop creating Millennium Development Goals or now, Sustainable Development Goals, without getting to the root causes of the problems to solve them. The same way we approach anything in life, we must approach developing the world in that way too. It’s much more complicated, and difficult, but, unless we want to keep pretending like we are going somewhere with this, something must be done. I said this article was meant to spark some thought, and it sure sparked some thought for me, and I hope it sparks some thought for you too. I will end by saying, remember that the greatest scientists are just like the greatest artists, they take great leaps into the unknown and plant seeds that have never been planted before, which will one day be ground-breaking roots.
"India Stem Foundation." India Stem Foundation. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
"Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership." Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership. U.S Department of Education. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
"STEM Education In America Is Half-Brained And A Four-Letter Word." The EvoLLLution STEM Education In America Is HalfBrained And A FourLetter Word Comments. 06 Mar. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
"World Bank to Finance 19 Centers of Excellence to Help Transform Science, Technology, and Higher Education in Africa." World Bank. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
Zakaria, Fareed. "Why America's Obsession with STEM Education Is Dangerous." Washington Post. The Washington Post. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.