STEM: More than just an acronym

November 8, 2021

Many people know that STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math but what exactly is STEM and why should you care?

STEM is so much more than an acronym. STEM is a teaching philosophy that recognizes the connection between these four disciplines and focuses on building practical hands-on skills that apply to real-world scenarios. It is an interdisciplinary and applied approach to teaching and learning.

Today, STEM is no longer a buzzword being thrown around education circles. STEM knowledge and skills have become fundamental to all aspects of our lives and universally recognized as critical aspects of education and careers. But, to understand STEM – and why Actua works so hard to make STEM inclusive and accessible to all – we need to understand its history and benefits.

Let’s start from the beginning

It appears the acronym STEM was introduced in 2001 by scientific administrators in the U.S. National Science Foundation to refer to the integrated knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

Fun Fact: The acronym was initially SMET which, most will agree, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

The notion was introduced due to the growing desire to improve curricula to focus on 21st-century skills. Many believed these skills were best gained through active learning rather than listening, which has become a key component of STEM education.

Is STEM still relevant today?

Yes, now more than ever! There are many reasons why STEM continues to be a critical to all aspects of our lives, including:

STEM teaches foundational skills critical to any career 

STEM education is one of the best and more effective ways to develop in-demand skills and is an excellent foundational study to prepare for any future career. That’s because STEM education teaches human skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and communication, in addition to foundational skills, such as math and science. The global value of these skills continues to increase year after year. What’s more, STEM fields have seen the fastest rate of job growth in Canada, with a 4.6 per cent yearly growth versus 1.8 per cent for the job market as a whole (Statistics Canada, 2017).

STEM will be the key driver of economic growth and prosperity

Our world has become dependent on STEM as a critical driver of economic growth. COVID-19 has only intensified this dependency and has highlighted the need for greater digital literacy among Canadians as technology rapidly advances. At the same time, STEM has become our primary defence against threats to our economy, such as COVID-19, which has driven scientists to discover new medicines and vaccines to slow its spread.

STEM promotes a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship

Curiosity, creativity and critical thinking are at the heart of innovation. STEM education teaches us how to be all of those things and more. It allows us to experiment, take risks and discover creative and practical solutions to real-world problems. It also promotes a culture of entrepreneurship by allowing participants to take pride and ownership over their discoveries and share their findings and solutions with others.

STEM is fun!

Oobleck? That’s STEM! Rainbows? STEM! Launching rockets to space? Also STEM! Science, technology, engineering and mathematics allow us to discover the world around us in fun and innovative ways. Some might view these fields of study as dull, riddled with numbers and equations, but with a bit of creativity, STEM can lead to fascinating experiments for all ages. Want to see for yourself? Visit our STEM at Home page for engaging content.

Who can benefit from STEM education?

Everyone! And by that, we mean ALL youth, no matter their race, ethnicity, sex, gender, ability, geography and socioeconomic status. Actua believes STEM education is a gateway to opportunity and must be accessible and inclusive for all youth. However, 68 per cent of Canadians acknowledge underrepresented minority groups often do not receive equal access to STEM education (3M State of Science Index, 2021). And, the COVID-19 pandemic has only widened the digital divide between those with access to technology and those without.

So, while the benefits of STEM are clear, there is much more work to be done to advance equity and strengthen diversity in STEM. Learn how Actua’s working to advance equity and diversity in STEM through our national programs: