We need to improve our global economic standing in STEM areas. You'll get no argument from me on that. Our laser focus on providing more STEM courses, however, might be blinding us to the fact that many students lack the crucial ability to put their STEM skills to use because they are not psychologically or socially prepared to participate in a global, collaborative economy.
We see students preparing to graduate who possess poor interpersonal communication skills, have no leadership ability and demonstrate no sensitivity to gender issues or ethnic diversity. These are vital skills for success in the digital age workplace. Unfortunately, an increased focus on STEM in our schools is not giving students the skills they need to effectively navigate their way through a job interview, lead a self-directed work team or accept and collaborate with people who are not just like them.
Diversity, communication and leadership skills are critical in today's global village. We have the technological ability to reach people in almost all regions of the world. But we can't count on that technology to ensure students will be able to effectively communicate with those who have disparate cultural norms and beliefs.
STEM education is important, but we must teach those subjects alongside, not in place of, the behavioral sciences, arts and humanities, and interpersonal and leadership skills. A well-rounded human being is better suited to today's world than a person who knows one thing very well but cannot communicate effectively with others, appreciate the arts or lead others to success. A graduate has to get the job (through effective interview skills) in which he or she will lead a diverse team (using interpersonal and leadership skills coupled with intercultural sensitivity) to produce results for an employer.
This means that neither STEM nor the humanities alone can be the answer. We need to share funding across these crucial disciplines to create a teaching mlange in which STEM skills are supplemented by citizenship, effective communication and practical life skills.
In other words, as always, one basket does not fit all the eggs. Today's students certainly need STEM courses to understand the physical and theoretical world, but they also need courses that will help them to better understand the people they will meet along the road of life. We must create funding schemata that will allow our students to succeed in the world, not just in the laboratory or the class room.
Larry Edmonds is a full-time lecturer and doctoral student at Arizona State University. He is also a member of ISTE, the World Communication Association and the International Leadership Association.