What is STEM Education?

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STEM education is an approach of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.

STEM education is so important for our children, our region and our country, that we must encourage our children to understand and embrace the technology that affects their lives every day and will do so even more in the future.

“STEM education is vital to ensuring the long-term viability and well-being of South African technological and scientific advancement, as well as for providing a new generation of well-qualified engineers, technicians and scientists who can improve upon the achievements of the current generation of space engineers and scientists.”

Benefits of a STEM education.

  • Enhanced problem solving capabilities
  • Improved mathematics skills
  • Improves creative thinking
  • Technology savvy student Population

Why Robotics?

Robotics challenges children to be innovative and creative when solving problems.  Robotics can help to open minds to new learning skills and create a positive attitude towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The MRT (My Robot Time) series of educational toys was designed as an aid for systematic and scientific teaching. It helps students to learn the essential STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) concepts all while they are playing. Besides the fact that robotics is FUN it gives a child the satisfaction of creating something. With a step by step guide students can learn to build and program their own robots.

Don’t let your child stay behind in a world where the understanding, implementation and management of Technology are crucial to their success in the future.

Robotics in the Classroom

“It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine.” (Gladwell, 2008) What legacy will we pass on to the next generation?

Background

I am an electronic engineer and have worked in the electronic industry for more than 20 years. I have dealt with numerous companies and design engineers in the electronic industry. What I noticed was that 80% of the electronic engineers were 40 years and older. This means that in 10 to 15 years from now when the majority of engineers retire, there will be a serious skills shortage in South Africa. I also noticed that very little to none of the young engineers are from the previously disadvantaged community.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has ranked South Africa maths and science education levels last out of 148 countries in their Global Competitiveness Report for 2014 – 2015 (Schwab, Klaus, 2014). Whether this information is accurate or not is beyond the scope of this document, what is true and accurate is that we are not the best or even in the top 10.

I set out to find a way to get young people interested in engineering and maths and came across “My Robot Time” (MRT), a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) educational system. Lectrobotix was registered and is now the sole importer and distributor of “My Robot Time” products in South Africa. Lectrobotix is made up by combining the following words “learn, electronics and robotics”.

Purpose

In a report by the Council on Higher Education (Ndebele, et al., 2013) it is stated that graduate output has not kept pace with the country’s needs even though more people now have access to schools and higher education. What this means is, that it is not only important to give children access to schools but what and how we teach them. The report sketches a very bleak picture about the poor performance of students in the Science, Engineering and Technology fields, where there is already a short supply of high-level skills. The skills shortages in these areas will have “major implications for economical and technological development” for South Africa.

Statistics released in January 2014 by the Department of Basic Education revealed that only 35.7% passed Mathematics and 39.1% passed Physical Sciences for the year 2012. If innovation is going to drive the economy of South Africa, the education system must improve these scores and interest the youth in STEM careers.

If there is any way that the Mathematics and Sciences pass rates can be improved, we as a community, must surely try our utmost to help our children better prepare for their future. The Department of Basic Education’s motto is “Every child is a national asset” (Department of Basic Education, 2014). What assets are we as a nation developing?

STEM education is the integrated teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, rather than to teach 4 separate and discrete subjects.

An article on the South African Space Agencies website with the title “South Africa’s space future demands STEM subjects” iterates the fact that we need to improve the national mathematics and science education. “A key way to meet the emerging challenge of our country’s developing economy for the 21st century is to grow our national skills base particularly the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills of our school leavers. Space science and technology is strongly driven by innovation and technological development.” (South African National Space Agency, 2012)

Robotics is an excellent tool to help teach children about the concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The MRT (My Robot Time) series of educational toys is designed as an aid for systematic and scientific teaching. It helps students to learn the essential STEM concepts all while they are playing. Besides the fact that robotics is fun it gives the child the satisfaction of creating something.

Impact

The term “Educational Robotics” refers to the teaching practice during which the student use the robots to construct knowledge (Jimoyiannis, 2012).

Through hands-on experimentation robots help the youth to transform abstract science, engineering and technology concepts into real-world understanding. (Barker & Ansorge, 2007). Children can identify with the robots because they are concrete and physical manifestations of the computer. Children also see robots as toys and this makes the learning experience entertaining.

Studies have shown that robotics generates a high degree of student interest and engagement and promote interest in maths and science careers. Students also learn that in the real world there is not necessarily only one correct answer to every problem. Teaching students how to build robots improves their problem-solving skills and how all the parts of a complex system interact and depend on each other. These are important lessons for anyone who ultimately must understand complex systems like biologists, doctors and computer scientist.

Female students in particular are more likely to appreciate learning with robots rather than the traditional teaching methods.

By implementing robotics in the class or even just letting children play and have fun with robotics now, will ensure that there is a higher intake at universities of students that are interested in STEM careers. The concepts that children learn now while playing with robotics will raise their level of ‘educatedness’ and enhance the quality of students entering the higher education system. By enhancing the quality of students entering the higher education system, we should see an increase in the number of students finishing their higher education. Of the 2006 intake a mere 41% of engineering students completed their higher education (Ndebele, et al., 2013)

The total cost for per student per year is roughly R70, 000.00 per year depending on the branch of study at a university. According to a report by the Council on Higher education 150 000 students enrolled for the first time at higher education institutions in 2006 (Ndebele, et al., 2013). The study also shows that 33% of first year student do not even finish the first year. That is 49 500 students that do not complete their first year for whatever reason. The amount of money that was spent on higher education that year that amounted to nothing is roughly 3.5 billion rand.

“It is common cause that the shortcomings and inequalities in South Africa’s public school system are a major contributor to the generally poor and racially skewed performance in higher education. There is equally no doubt about the need to improve the effectiveness of schooling, as an end in itself and as a means of enabling growth in higher education. However, the degree to which this is likely to be accomplished, and the time frame required for substantial improvement, must be key factors in considering what the secondary sector’s contribution can be.

If students under preparedness is seen as a primary cause of poor performance in higher education, the key pragmatic question for assessing the prospects for improvement is: To what extent will the secondary education sector be able to produce well-prepared candidates for higher education in sufficient numbers to enable higher education to function successfully within its current curriculum structures and educational approaches?” (Ndebele, et al., 2013)

If the percentage of first year students that fall out in the first year can be reduced by only 1% by introducing robotics in the classroom the amount of money that is saved is 34 million rand.

If we invest only 10% of the 3.5 billion rand lost, we can supply robotics kits to roughly 60 000 children. If only 10% of these children go onto complete their higher education as a result of the intervention of robotics in the classroom, South Africa will gain 6000 new graduates that would otherwise have given up in their first year. Robotics in the classroom can help reduce the shortages in skilled labour.