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Opinion: Obsession with STEM Education is "Dangerous"

Opinion: Obsession with STEM Education is "Dangerous"

America's emphasis on STEM education ignores broad-based learning and puts the country on a "narrow path" for the future, according to journalist and author Fareed Zakaria.

"Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and de-emphasize the humanities," he said in a recent OpEd in the Dallas Morning News.

As America attempts to compete in the age of technology and global competition, Zakaria warns that tossing a liberal education to the wayside is not the answer.

"The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross-fertilization," he said.

Zakaria references America's tendency to score internationally low across the STEM subjects since 1964, yet lead in innovation for the past five decades.

The most recent international test, conducted in 2012, found that among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 27th in math, 20th in science and 17th in reading ... Consider the same pattern in two other highly innovative countries, Sweden and Israel. Israel ranks first in the world in venture-capital investments as a percentage of GDP; the United States ranks second, and Sweden is sixth, ahead of Great Britain and Germany. These nations do well by most measures of innovation, such as research and development spending and the number of high-tech companies as a percent of all public companies. Yet all three countries fare surprisingly poorly in the OECD rankings.

While America may be a "poor test-taker," it has led in innovation thanks to its ability to be flexible and to possess a confidence that allows it to lead.

"Despite ranking 27th and 30th in math, respectively, American and Israeli students came out at the top in their belief in their math abilities, if one tallies their responses to survey questions about their skills."

This confidence "allows them to challenge their elders, start companies, persist when others think they are wrong and pick themselves up when they fail. Too much confidence runs the risk of self-delusion, but the trait is an essential ingredient for entrepreneurship," he said.

My point is not that it’s good that American students fare poorly on these tests. It isn’t. Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea have benefited enormously from having skilled workforces, but technical chops are just one ingredient needed for innovation and economic success. America overcomes its disadvantage — a less-technically trained workforce — with other advantages such as creativity, critical thinking and an optimistic outlook. A country like Japan, by contrast, can’t do as much with its well-trained workers because it lacks many of the factors that produce continuous innovation.

Further, Zakaria admonishes against relying on narrow expertise. "Companies often prefer strong basics to narrow expertise. Andrew Benett, a management consultant, surveyed 100 business leaders and found that 84 of them said they would rather hire smart, passionate people, even if they didn’t have the exact skills their companies needed," he said.

Read the full story and comment below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

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