A seismic shift in education is underway. Community, education, and business leaders are articulating the need to better equip students for the demands of a new century. The result is a focus on 21st century skills including scientific literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration and inquiry-based learning models where students build understanding through discovery.  Framed recently by the Council of Canadian Education Ministers, this focus is beginning to shape provincial curricula.

It should surprise no one that scientific literacy has been identified as a critical need. An ever-increasing number of jobs require STEM skills and today’s youth will need a more advanced understanding of science and technology than their parents to prepare them for the future. While much of the media attention directed toward STEM subjects has focused on the transition from high school to post-secondary workforce training, I feel that this is shortsighted. Skills and attitudes are developed and set through the formative early years. Children need a solid foundation in STEM subjects and 21st century skills.

Building STEM knowledge for students and teachers

Learning through discovery is nothing new to elementary education. Educators and cognitive scientists have long demonstrated the benefits of play, exploration, and experimentation and increasingly, faculties of education promote these methodologies.

"Educators and cognitive scientists have long demonstrated the benefits of play, exploration, and experimentation and increasingly, faculties of education promote these methodologies."

Still, elementary teachers are challenged to embrace inquiry-based study in their classrooms, particularly when it comes to STEM subjects.  It is rare for elementary teachers in Canada to have science-related backgrounds and almost impossible for them to keep up with developments in science. Most schools lack budgets for science equipment and materials and many teachers require more training and support to use them effectively.

Building STEM literacy

To overcome these challenges, educational leaders are looking to community, business, and educational partnerships. C21 Canada, a national organization comprised of educational leaders and organizations including the Canadian Education Association and the Canadian School Board Association, has called for community engagement to support teachers and students with authentic learning experiences both in and out of the classroom.

Canada’s STEM community is responding with hands-on, engaging learning experiences for children and youth, designed to build scientific literacy through discovery while encouraging interest in STEM subjects. The goal is to ensure that today’s curious children become tomorrow’s future leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and community builders.