STEM vs STEAM debate: A concise guide to Parents

STEM vs STEAM Children Playing with STEM Toys

In the last decade or so, there has been huge worldwide interest in STEM and affiliated programs and products. STEM of course stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. There is also an interesting debate on STEM vs STEAM, which will discuss in detail in this post.

Why STEM is Important?

STEM education, programs and products are trying to bring out an important change in the way the above subjects are being taught by educators and learnt by students. Currently S, T, E and M subjects and concepts are being taught discretely and individually. There are a lot of gains by viewing these subjects from a holistic perspective. The STEM approach aims to change precisely this. It aims to help both the educator and learner to view these as integrated and inter-related subjects.[1]

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STEM vs STEAM: Adding ‘A’ in STEM

Recently, there has been a strong push and advocacy that this acronym should further be extended to STEAM to include A for ‘Arts’[2]. There have been other relatively minor attempts to include Music and Reading into the STEM acronym as well. But push to make STEM into STEAM has had quite a few detractors who argue that such a move would be counter-productive. Let us try and understand the STEM vs STEAM debate more carefully.

Arguments in favor of STEAM

  1. Real world applications of STEM need a great understanding of Product thinking and Design thinking.[7] Be it ergonomics or usability of the product, the practitioner of STEM needs to understand design concepts for a better outcome.
  2. Could make STEM more accessible even to those students or learners who may not have the inclination or desire to pursue a career in the STEM.[8]
  3. Many students who are giving up on the STEM.[9] STEAM could be a possible solution to stem the rot.
  4. STEM programs are unable to foster exploration into areas of creativity and innovation. STEAM allows development of skills that are in need for the real world economy.[10]

Arguments against STEAM

There are multiple arguments being put forward against the introduction of ‘A’ into the STEM, such as:

  1. Introducing ‘Arts’ into STEM would be a distraction if the objective is to develop basic STEM literacy to a significant portion of the population[3]. Especially since the reasons for promoting STEM literacy in the general population are far from reaching their stated goals.[4]
  2. The student engagement with regards to STEM programs and products is still at very low levels. By pre-maturely introducing Arts, the programs and products would get further diluted in their focus on improving student engagement and learning outcomes.[5]
  3. Introduction of ‘A’ forcefully would reduce the coherence of the acronym and defeat the original purpose.[6] In this view, Art could be one more area where STEM can be applied, just like music or agriculture. The argument is that S, T, E, and M are naturally aligned and inter-connected, unlike Arts.

So where do we stand in this debate? Well, the truth is that we do not have a particularly strong position on either side of the STEM vs STEAM debate. We do see merits in arguments on both the sides.

iraparenting.com is a complete parenting destination site for parents with children in the age group of 2-6 years. At Ira, we believe that informed parenting is the best type there is. To know more about us, click here. Also, please explore our lra Learning products, which have been designed by experts. Our learning methodology will resonate with you.

STEM and India: A sad situation!

Having said that, we are particularly concerned about the state of STEM programs and products and activity boxes available for the Indian child. Many of these so-called STEM products available to the Indian children are of poor quality, poorly conceived and designed and have very little or no impact on learning outcomes. The STEM should not be a fad or marketing gimmick for selling substandard products and programs. If we are to do justice to it, STEM philosophy should guide us in developing appropriate pedagogical frameworks and apply them in the design of toys leading to tangible learning outcomes.

You might be interested in reading more about a very important child development skill called ‘Executive Function Skills’.

Summary:
  • STEM  stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics.
  • Currently S, T, E and M subjects are taught individually but STEM approach wants educators and children to view these subjects from a holistic perspective.
  • Recently, there has been a strong push to include A for ‘Arts’ in the acronym and extend STEM to STEAM. But not everyone is convinced about this.
  • This blog explores the STEM vs STEAM debate and looks at both the points of view.

iraparenting.com is a complete parenting destination site for parents with children in the age group of 2-6 years. At Ira, we believe that informed parenting is the best type there is. To know more about us, click here. Also, please explore our lra Learning products, which have been designed by experts. Our learning methodology will resonate with you.

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