Education is an issue that always weighs heavily on my mind and the current time is no different. The reason I am writing this post is to compare two issues that are only casually related, but that both truly matter on the world stage. These two issues are the education of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan and STEM education in the United States. While they may seem like they are a world apart, there is an interesting parallel that I cannot get out of my mind. I hope you too will see this parallel.
In June of this year I had the honor to attend the Rotary International Convention in Montreal and during this convention I had the greater honor to hear Greg Mortensen speak about his work educating young girls and now women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Seeing this presentation has inspired me to read both Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools. If you have not read these books, please do so as soon as possible. It is simply amazing to see what can happen when one person, one man, chooses to make a difference. I will not bore you with all of the numbers, but be aware that the number of girls being educated in these two countries has increased by over a factor of 10 as a result of Mr. Mortensen’s vision and the hard work of many within the countries. The Taliban had worked to minimize, if not eliminate, the education of women because they understand the value and power that women have in the household. Even the United States military has gotten involved because they too see how the true long term power we can bring to that part of the world is education, especially the education of women and girls.
The parallel I see is that while one easily recognizable force, the Taliban, has impacted the education of women and girls, there are many factors that have had similar impacts on the education of young people in America. The biggest obstacle I have seen to STEM education, especially Engineering education, is the deterioration of interest and proficiency in mathematics and the physical sciences in our country. There are many reasons that young people lose interest in the sciences, but one of the most basic is that Engineering and Science is not viewed as “sexy” and “cool.” There are some exceptions to this, such as the CSI series, but when was the last time you saw someone in the engineering field depicted as cool rather than as a “geek?” Even the IT arm of Best Buy is know as the “Geek Squad,” hardly a flattering name for a valuable group.
Statistics from the National Science Foundation show that while STEM graduates in America dropped during the 1990′s and 2000′s, there has been some improvement in the later 2000′s, a small glimmer of hope in my eyes.
Why is this an important issue? Think about this; the professions that truly create value are usually the sciences, whether through new technology or drug discovery or a whole host of innovative ideas that are firmly rooted in the sciences and in engineering. While meaning to offense to the legal profession, attorneys do not create wealth, they only redistribute it. Accountants add no value, they only add up the results.
What can you do? If you are a parent you can encourage your children to consider STEM careers when they think about career choices. If you are an educator, you can make your offerings interesting and contextually relevant for your students. If you are a business leader, you can get involved in STEM initiatives in your region such as the ACE Mentor program, an initiative that promotes careers in Architecture, Engineering and Construction.
Each of us can play a part. You don’t have to go to a third-world country to make a difference. You can do great things in your own back yard.