STEM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, essentially defines the preparation of students in the proficiency in these core units while placing emphasis on modelling real world problems and simulating solutions. Whether STEM initiatives are integrated into or stand apart from regular school curriculum, it is clear that educations program’s that produce critical thinkers, and improves math and science literacy are required to enable any developing economy to remain competitive through constant technological innovation and higher levels of human capital.
In an ever shrinking and highly competitive global environment, the urgency is even greater. Capital is generally thought to gravitate to the regions of the world where it is efficiently utilized and maximizes profit. Much is true when we look at the cheap labor afforded by the ‘ASIAN Tigers’ of the East and the influx of foreign investment that was a standout characteristic of the Asian Miracle. What was also true were the massive government investments in education, particularly in the technology related areas and critical thinking. Thus, the quality of education plays an equally important role in development.
So where does the Caribbean stand in its ability to create a curious, innovative, and science literate workforce? Well according to the Global Competitiveness Index 2014-2015, out of 144 countries assessed Barbados is the highest ranked country in the Western Hemisphere at 7th when measuring the quality of math and science education (see figure 1). Meanwhile, its other Caribbean counterparts are lagging behind, with Trinidad and Tobago at 35th, Guyana 55th, Suriname 89th, Jamaica 101st, and Haiti at 124th. However, the Caribbean region remains well above the more developed economies in Latin America: Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and Brazil are all ranked below Jamaica.
Caution should be given to such findings since equity, population density and available infrastructure can be misrepresented. For instance, Barbados like most other Caribbean nations has a very small population relative to the rest of its comparators, the number of well-equipped science labs and research centers in Brazil alone may outstrip the entire Caribbean, and very little innovation and technological improvements have originated from the Caribbean.
What is clear is that the jobs of tomorrow will continue to demand critical thinking and an understanding of mathematics and science to keep pace with the increasing dynamism of technological innovation. While the focus on this issue may be dominated by the availability of infrastructure, large gains can be made by sowing the seeds of an early STEM programs at the nursery and primary levels. Piquing the curiosity of a 6 year-old simply with a microscope may spark a life-long passion.
Figure 1. Quality of math and science education in schools
Source: Global Competitiveness Index 2014-2015, World Economic Forum.
Cummings, W. K. (1997) Human Resource Development: The J-model, in W. K. Cummings and P. G. Altbach (eds) The Challenge of Eastern Asian Education. New York: The State University of New York Press.
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