Tuesday November 26, 2013

My daughter is now in Grade 10 and will soon be in a position to drop her high school science and math courses.  As the president and founder of Let’s Talk Science, a national organization that encourages and supports engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), I can tell you we've had some interesting conversations about the value of these courses.

It’s critically important that parents initiate and pursue such conversations, helping their children examine the diversity of options that are available with science and math. Many more university, college and skilled trades pathways demand STEM experience than you might realize, from physicians and engineers, to chefs, media arts specialists, welders and plumbers.

With support from Amgen Canada, Let’s Talk Science has released several reports that examine the importance of STEM learning, our most recent being “A Spotlight on Science Learning: the high cost of dropping science and math”.

In the report we learned:

  • over 70% of top jobs need STEM experience, yet fewer than half of Canadian high school students graduate with senior math and science (rates are even lower in Ontario).
  • only 22% of parents discuss math and science with their children despite realizing that these subjects are FAR more important now than when they were in school.  

It’s important to note that STEM learning also builds skills and competencies that are needed for all jobs – things like critical thinking, problem solving, information management, positive risk taking, effective communication and more.    

So how do you launch the conversation with your kids?  Try talking about how science and math complements your child’s personal interests and strengths. For example, if your child loves sports, talk about the importance of understanding biology for training and math for game strategy.  I’ve also found it effective to highlight where science and math are needed in jobs you might not expect, for example, for skilled trades like carpentry.

A few tips for parents:

  • Don’t assume your child receives adequate career advice at school. You are the most important influencer of their school choices so initiate the conversation and explore the diversity of opportunities together.
  • If your child is having difficulty with science and math, get support through a tutor or mentor.  Help your child realize success in these subject areas, even if it takes extra effort.
  • If your child excels in science and math, help find enrichment opportunities that keep your child engaged and inspired.

STEM learning not only prepares our kids for great jobs, it also develops the informed, thoughtful citizens we need to deal with critical issues such as climate change, energy sustainability, feeding the world and providing potable water and health care.

After many discussions over the years, my daughter has thankfully decided to keep her options open and maintain her science and math credits – at least through high school, which is really all I can ask of her.

The trick is not to wait until grade 10 – these discussions should start early in elementary school so kids can understand the value of math and science in their lives today, and in achieving their goals tomorrow.

  • Bonnie Schmidt, Ph.D. is the president and founder of Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization that supports children and youth in their learning of and engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).