Many parents in the United States feel like they have received a good education and they think their children will be alike. But many do not know that the US has gradually fallen behind the rest of the world in the so-called STEM areas - Science, Technology, Technology and Mathematics. American students ranked only 17 in a 2009 study of the International Students Assessment program. Since 1960, the proportion of bachelor or postgraduate programs in STEM areas has fallen to 8% from 17%, indicating that the problem is serious in higher education as well.
This is a tragic event, given that the STEM areas underpin progress and innovation and were widespread in our country throughout the 20th century. American innovations transformed our nation into advances in manufacturing, transport, communications, electronics and space exploration, while American computer technology transformed the world.
The same fields will form the basis for future jobs and careers. Computers spread as tools in all areas of human endeavor. Science and Mathematics are now widely used in planning and statistical analysis, which gives us new responses in medicine, ecology, energy and trade where none existed earlier. The world dependence on digital technology is expanding exponentially, with the need for competent science and technology personnel.
There are initiatives in progress in training circles to help correct the situation, and there is growing consensus among companies and business leaders that funding and incentives must be given to move things faster. There are certain efforts within the government to quickly locate and educate teachers and trainers in the STEM fields with incentives such as scholarships and loan grants. There are also initiatives to improve teaching and learning techniques to increase quality and reduce the time for the acquisition of STEM knowledge.
But initiative is not enough for themselves. Parents also play an important role.
As a parent you can help your child to be prepared for future careers and jobs, all of which require knowledge and skills in science, technology or mathematics. Children today are so redundant with technology as they take it for granted. Technology for children is common, as usual as the clothes they wear and the chairs they are sitting in, as common as plastic or cardboard where electronic devices are delivered. For them everything is "amazing", and when everything is "amazing", nothing is really extra.
You can help them appreciate science and technology. - not by referring stories about your childhood when such wonders were nonexistent or when you actually had to turn a steering wheel on a phone and wait to click through the numbers - but by presenting them with thought problems. What would they do if their smartphone suddenly stopped working? How would they find out how to get to a friend's house if Google Maps did not exist? How would they find Thomas Jefferson's life if there was no internet? Ask them to perform a variety of intellectual tasks without using a computer or smartphone. If you need to help them investigate the answers.
Encourage them to think about how computer games are made, how moving images are written, planned and produced, how different products are designed and how the tools and machines to produce them are developed.
Give them an enriched environment. Surround them with books that explain their world in words and pictures. Encourage them to watch documentaries of interest - videos that show that different toys and products are manufactured or explored by remote sites. Give them toys that are designed to encourage curiosity, imagination and creativity.
Play with them Engage them in conversation and encourage them to "think up" things to do, games to play and things to build. The more you can make them use their brains actively instead of passively, the more likely they are to become independent, productive adults with skills and skills that will carry them through a successful career.
And finally, help them by setting the example. Let them see you read, write, outline solutions, make calculations and approach technology without fear and curiosity and surprise. Express appreciation for technology and imagination that goes into games and other products. Talk to them about the role of researchers, engineers and mathematicians in society.
Help them understand that these are fascinating studies that can be lucrative careers. Help them understand that these are easier and more promising ways to become successful than becoming a movie star, musician or a big league player.