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What Is STEM Learning?

The acronym STEM originated with the National Science Foundation (NSF). It refers to education related programs and activities in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In recent years, STEM education has become a major focus in the United States for the following reasons:

U.S. students continue to lag behind their peers in many developed countries in Science and Mathematics.

Only 7 percent of U.S. students reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, while 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore and 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea reached the advanced level. As those with superior math and science skills increasingly thrive in a global economy, the lag among American students could be a cause for concern.

See the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study from the National Center for Education Statistics. There is concern that the United States is not sufficiently developing students in the areas of technology, engineering, science, and mathematics. In a Congressional Research Service Report (Kuenzi 2008), the U.S. ranks 20th among all nations in the proportion of 24-year-olds who earn degrees in Natural Science or Engineering. Application of content knowledge from STEM disciplines is increasingly required in jobs at all levels.

As stated in a report by the Economics and Statistics Administration under the United States Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018 compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations. STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. Finally, our nation’s economic growth in the coming years will be driven by our ability to both generate ideas and translate them into innovative products and services. STEM education has been identified as a primary driver to help us do this and prepare for the challenges of the 21st century.

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