February 2020 by Ji Li, published on New Statesman Skills Spotlight

A combination of creative and technical skills is the key to a rounded education, says Ji Li, managing director of Plum Innovations

No less a person than Albert Einstein said: “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

In the 21st century, this spirit of problem solving and innovation is embodied in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering
and mathematics). The skills of observation, logical thinking, creativity and application of maths, can address real-world issues with the support of technologies.

“STEM is the intellectual compass for enabling future generations of children to prosper and succeed in a world being revolutionised by digital innovation,” says John Jackson, CEO at London Grid for Learning. He believes that if we do not energise STEM now then we risk casting future generations adrift at a time when they need our support more than ever. “These skills will enable them not only to stay afloat, but to confidently explore and benefit from the seismic and accelerating technological change.”

The UK has always been a leader of innovations and industrial revolutions. The list of transformative products and technologies designed here include trains and televisions, telephones and the internet – and of course, chocolate. STEM has been the key competitive strength and driving force for inventions, economic growth and improvement in living standards across the globe since the start of human civilisation.

Caroline Wright, director general at the British Educational Suppliers
Association
, thinks maintaining expertise in STEM is crucial. For her this is both about expanding scientific knowledge, and about ensuring future generations develop creativity, critical thinking, resilience and the ability to experiment, test and learn from mistakes. “I, for one, often learned more and made better progress in my
scientific studies as a result of trying again after failed experiments and incorrect hypotheses.”

Right now we are in the eye of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s perfect
storm. However, STEM is talked about less and less both inside and outside
schools. While we know that STEM subjects are interdependent, maths, design technology and computing are taught almost completely separately in schools – and rarely. Even topics like coding are just one part of what children need to know about computing, and in turn computing is just one part of the STEM ecosystem.

Rob Carpenter, CEO at The Inspire Partnership Multi-Academy Trust
believes “deep learning is intrinsically linked to the application of thought
and making sense of the world around us.” He says educators need to “mobilise curriculum knowledge and create networks of subject learning communities.” Carpenter says this will help to prepare our children as the post-digital era generation workforce to harness AI and any unknown technology that might emerge in a decade’s time.

We have to bring together teachers in maths, computing, art, science, and design technology and support them with resources, collaboration and training. Schools can also harness STEM to improve subjects such as English and foreign languages. This is key to helping children still in primary schools develop the skills and creative imagination to ignite the next industrial revolution.

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