Science demands: Strengthen STEM education

October 28, 2021

STEM subjects need more emphasis in all areas of education due to their great societal importance. Researchers from the Leibniz Education Research Network (LERN) emphasize this in a current position paper presented today at the Education Policy Forum organized by LERN. According to the statement, a strong STEM education ensures innovation and prosperity and helps meet global challenges such as the energy transition, climate change and pandemic response. The statement focuses on proposals to systematically address the current deficits in these subjects.

The general consensus is that effective educational programs in mathematics, computer science, the sciences and technology (the so-called STEM fields) are a necessary prerequisite for individual and societal development. However, challenges in STEM education still urgently need addressing. For example, school dropouts are not sufficiently qualified for apprenticeships in STEM fields, and the proportion of women in STEM degree programs is still too low.

The authors of the position paper, which includes specific proposals to improve STEM education and will be published at the Education Policy Forum, see the greatest challenges in preschool and elementary education, in the digital transition, in recruiting trainees for STEM professions, and in higher education:

(1) Preschool and elementary education

Mathematics and science education curricula should receive greater emphasis in the elementary sector. Sound early childhood education programs depend on the quality of the facilities and, especially, the quality of the staff, as well as on the scope of mathematics and science learning opportunities in the facilities. The training and continuing education of teachers should be further improved and preschool support significantly strengthened in the area of mathematics. At the elementary school level, more intensive diagnostics and support are necessary to ensure that learning can continue at the lower secondary level.

(2) Strengthen digital skills

The digital transformation has led to an urgent need to expand educational objectives and strengthen computer skills. This also includes further training of educational staff. The position paper's authors make it clear that developing digital skills in schools is not only the responsibility of the discipline of computer science, but of all disciplines. The researchers believe that a training campaign for teachers is necessary to ensure this. Furthermore, educational institutions need sustainable digital infrastructures.

(3) Attracting individuals to STEM apprenticeships

The societal importance of STEM subjects and apprenticeships requires increased public awareness. STEM subjects must be taught to more young individuals. Many apprenticeships remain vacant because applicants lack the necessary skills. In secondary schools, further efforts must focus on drastically reducing the proportion of students who belong to at-risk groups. This includes those whose math and science skills do not surpass the level required in elementary school. Furthermore, systematic research efforts should focus on furthering knowledge regarding success factors. Empirically proven, these findings can form the basis for model programs. The proportion of women in STEM professions remains too small. More research is needed into how a necessary cultural change in organizations can lead to the dismantling of gender stereotypes.

(4) Strengthen STEM education at universities.

Currently, the proportion of students in STEM subjects is declining. This trend must be addressed. Digital courses in higher education that allow for more individualized learning need to be expanded, and international students should have easier access to German universities. The frequency of students dropping out of university is higher than average in the STEM subjects. This high number of dropouts is usually due to performance problems. Universities are called upon here to expand their existing support services for students. Targeted measures to increase the proportion of women in STEM courses must be maintained and expanded.

The coordination office of the LERN research network is located at the DIPF | Leibniz Institute for Human Development and Educational Information. LERN brings together researchers from educational science, education, linguistics, cultural studies, media studies, neuroscience, economics, political science, psychology, sociology, information science and computer science from 25 institutions. It is the goal of the network to bundle expertise and to increase the visibility of the Leibniz Association in educational issues among political decision-makers, educational administrators and the general public. It aims to contribute to a better development of the future of education and to find starting points for sustainable concepts and promising reforms on an individual, institutional and societal level.

A German version of the paper’s Abstract is available here.

Many institutions in the LERN research network dedicate their research and development work to STEM education processes across the lifespan. A german overview of the most important projects can be downloaded here.

Responsibility for the content of the Education Policy Forum 2021 and the position paper:

IPN – Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education

DZHW - German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies

LIfBi -   Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi)

Speaker Group of the Leibniz Educational Research Network (LERN):

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Cress, IWM – Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien
Prof. Dr. Marcus Hasselhorn, DIPF | Leibniz Institute for Research and Information in Education
Prof. Dr. Olaf Köller, IPN | Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education
Prof. Dr. Heike Solga, WZB | Berlin Social Science Center
Prof. Dr. Katharina Spieß, DIW | German Institute for Economic Research