Tue | Aug 22, 2017

STEMization or STEAMization of the education system

Published:Thursday | January 7, 2016 | 1:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The ministry of Education's focus to transform the education system with a STEM emphasis - the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics - has generated quite a lot of steam, to the point that those in the humanities are boiling with fear and anxiety about their co-existence or the lack thereof, including those from my institution, the University of Technology. Let's not get too hot-headed. I am suggesting that we stem the tidal wave of fear and anxiety by posing the following questions to the drivers of STEM. Can a STEM scientist function well without an understanding and appreciation of human behaviour (behavioural sciences)? Can he become truly academically astute without the proper 'groundations' (my word) in technical writing and the arts in general? How can he function without sitting at the feet of the ethicists to fully appreciate that his conduct as a scientist is guided by general and discipline-specific ethics?

How we can ensure we do not produce STEM toads? (A STEM toad is a graduate from a STEAM institution who was not sufficiently grounded in some essential non-STEAM disciplines).

STEMites must realise that the skills required by innovative STEM professionals include artistic thinking. But what does that involve? Scientifically, it involves recognising and forming patterns; modelling; getting a 'feel' for systems; and the manipulative skills learned by using tools, pens, and brushes, generating mental images and concepts; these are all demonstrably valuable for developing STEM abilities. The powers that be must therefore consider offering funding for collaborative and productive research into the benefits of teaching at the intersection of STEM and non-STEM disciplines. It is only then we could empirically and emphatically say yes, STEAM cannot exist without the arts and other non-STEM disciplines, or no, STEAM does not need them.

FROM STEAM TO STREAM

I must hasten to say, however, that adding the arts to STEM is not enough. We should seriously consider adding the thinking skills embodied in reading and writing. STEAM must now be reconfigured into STREAM!

Writing, like any other art, teaches the entire range of 'tools for thinking' that are required to be creative in any discipline. To be a lucid writer, one must observe acutely; abstract out the key information; recognise and create patterns; use analogies and metaphors to model in words some reality that takes place in another dimension; translate sensations, feelings, and hunches into clearly communicable forms; and combine all this sensual information into words that create not only understanding but also delight, remorse, anger, desire, or any other human emotion that will drive understanding into action.

Let's think for a moment: what was just described is what our STEM scientists do, too.

So don't despise writing, it isn't just wordsmithing. It's also a skill. I might even add it is a technological skill because it teaches mastery of the creative process. Whether it is academic writing, fiction or non-fiction, creative non-fiction or poetry, the process of taking facts, trends, feelings, impressions, images, and emotions and translating them into words requires mastery of all the tools for thinking required to perform any other creative activity.

Moreover, since words are our primary means of communicating, anyone who has not mastered their creative use is simply underprepared for any discipline, including STEM subjects. If you want to train a highly professional and innovative scientist, then I am convinced that they must be taught how to love and cherish writing, human behaviour sciences like psychology, languages, whether foreign, or local vernacular, etc., then and only then you would have prepared a true STEM scientist, and he would be forever grateful.

Henry Lewis Jr

Executive Life Coach

Coordinator for the Psychology Unit

University of Technology, Jamaica