STEM education: educational goals and developing countries

Progress on the right track

Who hasn’t celebrated the historic nuclear fusion experiment achieved in a California laboratory that, for the first time, produced more energy than was required to initiate it? Although it will take decades before an industrial breakthrough in the experiment, this result shows that scientific progress is on the right track. But if the path of progress is traced, who will contribute to innovating, improving, and scaling other experiments like this? This discovery and other technological breakthroughs coincide with a skills shortage. Among these, STEM are the most affected, and developing countries even more suffer the situation.

STEM Skills are rare

The United Kingdom is currently experiencing a shortage of human resources in the scientific and technological sectors. A UK Commission for Employment and Skills report states that 43% of vacancies in the scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical fields (the so-called STEM jobs) are challenging to fill. In the United States, 3.5 million jobs must be filled by 2025. However, only 20% of high school graduates are ready to face the rigors of STEM degrees.

The challenge: STEM in Developing Countries

If state of the art in the Anglo-Saxon world is not rosy, what is the situation in developing countries?
According to estimates, over 30.6 million unskilled Africans cannot take advantage of STEM opportunities on the continent. Except for India, no developing countries are among the top 15 countries with the highest number of STEM degrees. As a result, job offers for qualified workers exceed the number of available employees by hundreds of thousands. As a result, businesses suffer, progress in many sectors slows down, and developing countries pay the highest price.
A glimmer of optimism comes from the awareness that STEM professions are growing in popularity and importance in many developing countries, thanks to the fact that technology continues to play a vital role in driving economic growth and development. Moving from being “popular” in the minds of young people to “popular” in universities with students, optimism must face reality.

The reasons for the shortage of technical and scientific professionals vary from region to region. STEM jobs require advanced degrees that require more time and financial resources to complete than training in other professions.

The same reasons

In developing countries, the reasons vary from living conditions and mobility in conflict zones and those affected by natural disasters to the demographic boom that directs resources to different priorities, student infrastructure such as campuses, classrooms, laboratories, outdated equipment, and technology. Cultural reasons also penalize women’s emancipation, not to mention hierarchical dynamics and family expectations that guide a young person’s educational and career choices away from their passions and interests.

Optimizing STEM education towards economic development

Whatever the reason, what matters is to optimize state of the art, maximize new training opportunities, primarily those online, involve as many stakeholders as possible among university ecosystems and downstream effects, and invest in empowering brilliant young change-makers.
STEM education pathways must be at the center of educational purposes and central to the world’s peripheries. Data proves that STEM education is fundamental to the economic development of developing countries. Decades of research confirm that more significant investments in education lead to higher economic growth; this means higher salaries for individuals, greater workforce efficiency, and increased gross domestic product.

STEM education is indispensable for economic development
. It provides the skills and knowledge necessary for individuals to participate in and contribute to technological and scientific advances. This leads to new sectors and jobs, stimulates innovation, and increases productivity. A qualified STEM workforce is also essential for a country to remain competitive in a global economy and to solve the complex problems that society must face, such as climate change and healthcare.

Investments in STEM and economic growth

STEM education must be at the center of educational purposes and central to the world’s peripheries.
Evidence proves that STEM education is critical to economic development in developing countries. Decades of research confirm that higher investments in education lead to more significant economic growth; this means higher wages for individuals, greater labor force effectiveness, and increased gross domestic product.

STEM education is indispensable for economic development because it provides the skills and knowledge necessary for individuals to participate in and contribute to technological and scientific advances. This leads to the creation of new sectors and jobs, stimulates innovation and increases productivity.
A skilled STEM workforce is also crucial for a country to remain competitive in a global economy and solve complex societal problems, such as climate change and healthcare. By investing in STEM education, a country can lay the foundation for long-term economic growth and prosperity.

Large-scale technological innovation can only be achieved by pooling the knowledge and experience of specialists who master STEM subjects. Therefore, the role of STEM education in developing countries is strategic because a country’s growth depends entirely on new technological and scientific developments.

Evidence from Data

According to the data, the economic performance of metropolises with more STEM-oriented economies is higher than those with economies qualified by less investment in STEM subjects. Within these metropolises, unemployment is lower, incomes higher, and patents for innovative products and services find the appropriate sap and public-private-academic synergies to flourish.
According to many experts, this is also true at the national level: the most prosperous countries in the world tend to make efficient use of scientific advances and the latest technologies.

Experts also argue that a STEM education encourages critical thinking, promotes in-depth exploration of academic subjects voluntarily, fosters collaboration, and stimulates creativity and problem-solving skills.

Innovation is required for a Sustainable future

Another aspect of pre-eminent importance is that of a sustainable future.
We have a growing need for an education system that works for people, for economic development and above all, for the planet.
As stated in the article Why STEM Education is Key For a Sustainable Future, “today STEM refers to a scientific approach to addressing the world’s problems. However, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education is also a strategy for students to become citizens and scientists capable of entering the green technology sector. This new generation is emerging as active leaders who want to solve some of the world’s most critical problems, particularly sustainability-related ones.

Another aspect inherent in access to STEM subjects concerns a country’s ability to enter a phase of full sustainable development and look far beyond its national and continental borders: to Space.

As explained by Igor Ciminelli, School of Disruption Managing Director and Board Member of the Swiss Institute for Disruptive Innovation, “it is unthinkable, counterproductive and retrogressive to address the challenges related to space exploration without involving talent that is expressing its capabilities in developing countries. Aiming at courses and e-learning programs capable of filling the gaps and criticalities that hinder access to scientific and technological subjects in developing countries is a prerogative that must engage all the players involved: the private sector, institutions, universities, NGOs, think tanks, and also the mass media so that they act as true watchdogs of a cause whose benefits are truly universal.

Is e-learning a valuable tool for catching up?

Coming back down to earth but remaining in a digital context, online tools and resources are now available to build a solid foundation of STEM subject dissemination and learning that is inclusive, transversal, and borderless.
According to a highly reviewed report by Facts & Factors, the global E-Learning market’s size was estimated at $210.1 billion in 2021. It is expected to exceed 848.12 billion by 2030.

Indeed spatial figures that, however, jar with a black hole, namely the lack of a globally organised critical mass and of recognized and competent personalities who champion the cause of STEM education in terms of the emancipation of people, countries, and the preservation of the environment.

Image Credits: Built in Africa

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