The American economy continues to produce jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). According to a 2014 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) the nation’s job growth between 2004 and 2012 was nearly expressly due to job creation in STEM fields. Non-STEM jobs remained about the same in number over that time span. While the percentage of students earning degrees in STEM fields has increased over the past decade, America still lags behind other nations in global measures of academic performance and lacks the trained workforce to meet the growing job market. Innovative philanthropic programs and business-supported initiatives around the world can serve as inspiration as the US seeks to engage the next generation in STEM education and entice them into careers in those growing sectors.
The UK-based startup Kano (kano.me) is revolutionizing the way children interact with technology. Kano captures children’s interest and imaginations with build-it-yourself computer kits. After assembling their own working computers, kids dive into interactive gaming that helps them learn coding and computational thinking. Kano Blocks, is drag-and-drop system that allows users to use graphical blocks to build code, but also switch view to see the lines of code those blocks are creating. When playing classic games such as Pong or the uber-popular Minecraft, novice programmers can hack code to alter the parameters of the games – for instance size, speed and colors of game elements – in real time.
With a modest goal of raising $100,000, Kano took to Kickstarter and secured an impressive $1.5 million in funding. The company began shipping its first Kano kits to nearly 20,000 consumers in the fall of 2014. While most buyers were individuals, global educational company Pearson invested in Kano products for computing programs in the UK. Adapting this approach – encouraging children not just to consume technology, but to actively participate in creating it – we can create a life-long curiosity in technology starting a very early age.
Kano is a truly global project. The management team represents eleven different nationalities that work out of three countries, and they’ve consulted with hundreds of young people, artists and teachers worldwide. Notably, Kano plans for its for-profit enterprise (Kano kits are available online for $150 apiece) to fund a non-profit program designed to bring low-cost DIY tech to smart young people around the world.
This notion of non-profit and business collaboration also is vital to the future of STEM education. As a leading registration agent for internet domains, Domain.ME invests in the future of technology in our home country of Montenegro and around the world. National and international competitions are popular means of generating and maintaining student interest in technology worldwide – and several US companies already sponsor events in engineering, programming, robotics and more. As these competitions become increasingly common and more competitive, our business has committed to helping the next generation of students learn critical skills in algorithms, math, programming languages and coding to help them succeed in the competitive environment.
For five years, we have partnered with the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Montenegro to prepare elementary and secondary school students for programming competition, hosting training at our office locations and providing volunteer resources.
We encourage American businesses likewise to consider what they have to offer to STEM education in their communities. Intel’s recent $300 million commitment to sponsor STEM education in K-12 classes and in universities in underserved regions is a bold show of support. But huge corporations alone don’t shoulder the effort. Mentoring, facilities, equipment and more can be just as vital as financial support – and small and mid-size businesses have resources to contribute.
It is heartening that the current US administration has committed to increased support for STEM education. But federal resources only go so far. If the US, or any other country in the world, is to remain competitive and meet the demand for skilled labor in the growing fields of science, technology, engineering and math, it will take public/private partnership and entrepreneurial thinking. There is much to be learned by examining international best practices, and gaining insight from what is working beyond US borders.
Lesic is the CEO of .Me – a personal online domain that caters to the branding, professional and personal interests of online users. Contact him at email@example.com.