STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The fields connect under the banner of one acronym not just because the skills and knowledge in each discipline are essential for youth success, but also because these fields are deeply intertwined in the real world.

Never before has STEM education been more important or more relevant. Canadian youth need skills in STEM to connect to 21st century careers — careers we can’t yet imagine. This we know. In all of our efforts to immerse youth in STEM, one big question stands out: are we going about STEM education in the right way?

Youth need much more than skills in STEM. They need to understand how to use those skills in innovative ways and with an entrepreneurial mindset. Before that happens, they need to learn how to fail.

“It’s important to talk to kids about failure as an important element in great inventions.”

Embrace failure, achieve success

One of the most profound common denominators of all things innovative and entrepreneurial is the concept of failure.  Most of us were raised to fear and avoid it — this inherent intolerance of failure is holding us back from achieving our true innovation potential. If we can get past our own fear of failure, perhaps we can begin to instill among youth the critical value that failure plays in innovation and STEM.
To be clear, I am not talking about failure in the context of lack of effort or apathy. I’m talking about failure as a critical step in the innovative process. I’m talking about it as motivation to try alternative approaches and to apply creative solutions.

It’s important to talk to kids about failure as an important element in great inventions. Most successful businesses are built on a significant number of failed attempts. And, by creating safe spaces for kids to fail, focus on what went wrong, learn from it, and take the next step forward, they learn to experience failure and learn to work through it.

It is time to reclaim the word ‘fail’ in a positive, constructive light. It is time to embrace failure as an entrepreneurial value and as a key ingredient in innovation. It is time to help youth learn how to fail smart while building their STEM skills.

Empowering tomorrow’s problem solvers

As critical thinkers, youth will make meaningful connections between school, community, work, and global issues. When youth begin to see how their skills and experience can be used to generate ideas, they will begin to see themselves as innovators. When they leverage their STEM skills to produce new ways of doing business, they will believe in themselves as entrepreneurs. When they learn how to apply their STEM skills to real life situations, that’s when they become empowered to be the problem solvers of tomorrow and the drivers behind Canada’s future social and economic well being.