How STEM Fuels Growth and
Opportunity for the Next Generation
In recent years, a tidal wave of innovators, engineers and scientists have taken the employment spotlight as the advancement of technology reaches new heights. However, as the global tech sector booms, machines replace traditional manual labor and subsequent jobs. New jobs require skills informed by STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Although school enrollment rates in the region have vastly improved in recent years, Latin American students continue to rank in the bottom third worldwide in math, reading and science, according to the latest PISA survey. One of the barriers to success is unequal access. The region’s poorest students are more than two years behind their wealthier counterparts, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, which predicts it would take decades for the region to catch up with higher performing countries in math and science.
LAC Science & Math Scores
vs. International Average
Whether it's a science fair in Mexico, a nature-based science curriculum in Brazil, providing a system of stability and growth to displaced youth in Colombia, supplying books and supplies in Argentina or providing educational support to teachers and students in Chile, PADF and partners are working to bridge the digital divide.
Grand Challenges: a Hands-on Approach
Grand Challenges teach students how to approach real-world problems by connecting two or more disciplines within STEM. Additionally, they may connect a STEM discipline with a non-STEM discipline like art or sociology. Grand Challenges are versatile educational elements that can be introduced into any curriculum and can include as little or as much technology as necessary.
PADF has introduced robotics competitions, which challenge students to draw from a range of skills and disciplines to make functional machines. In Panama, students have developed skills in leadership, teamwork and creative problem-solving by building robots to compete in the National Robotics Olympiad.
Networks & Communities of Practice
Participants in “STEM in the Americas” engage in communities of practice, drawing on the knowledge, tools and resources needed to succeed. PADF creates communities of practice around STEM education by connecting students, teachers and other education stakeholders. After participating in trainings, fairs and existing online communities, they become well-connected and better informed.
Together, PADF and the OAS offer a scholarship to a select number of teachers for a certification in STEM education. It is a professional development program that focuses on designing and implementing STEM practices. In addition to improving the quality of education, the course focuses on STEM opportunities for the integral development of society.
Teachers are the backbone of high-quality STEM education. In addition to assistance with curriculums, supporting materials, activities and other content, teachers need to feel empowered to advocate for the inclusion and continuation of these initiatives in their schools. All PADF projects include teacher training and support. PADF has equipped teachers with the training and resources they need to create a quality learning experience for students.
Through the OAS online certification portal, PADF provides unique access for educators to acquire STEM teaching methodologies.
Inclusion & Diversity
A focus on inclusion and diversity must be established to ensure quality education for all. It is imperative to include those from low-income families and vulnerable populations and influence the societal perceptions of where STEM talent resides. Including girls, indigenous people and other excluded groups changes public perceptions about the relevancy of STEM in all people’s lives.
The gender gap in STEM education is evidenced at different stages in the educational and workforce process. PADF continues to identify opportunities to promote gender access by including role models, facilitating mentoring or coaching opportunities when appropriate, and promoting the research and documentation of gender segregated information for STEM-related activities.
Many girls don’t consider careers in STEM education because of gender norms and perceptions. PADF includes girls from a young age to deconstruct those perceptions, paving the way to a career in a STEM field.
Global Issues, Local Solutions
The increased knowledge and technological fluency resulting from STEM education allows for locally adapted solutions to worldwide issues. STEM education can play a fundamental role in creating solutions in many areas of sustainable development. Additionally, it fosters robust partnerships at the local, regional, national and international levels.
PADF has supported STEM education to Colombian communities displaced by decades-long internal conflict. In those communities, conflict resolution and violence prevention are especially relevant, and are included in the STEM curriculum.
In Argentina, PADF is supporting Fundación Ciencia Joven, which has seen great success with its STEM Academy pilot program in Chile. The Argentinian STEM Academy program prioritizes students' ability to use science to explain complex things, understanding scientific methods, and appreciating STEM as a viable career option.
PADF also supported Fundación Leer, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing literacy in Argentina, to implement the Leyendo las Ciencias, or Reading the Sciences, project. Through teacher trainings, book donations, a science fair, and other activities, the project aims to develop science literacy, including logical reasoning abilities and familiarity with the scientific method, among 5th and 6th graders in Pilar, Buenos Aires province.
In Brazil, PADF supported the Sociedade de Pesquisa em Vida Selvagem e Educaçao Ambiental (SPVS), a leading Brazilian environmental conservation organization, in the STEM Education through Nature project. The project helped students in the greater Curitiba area learn the science behind biodiversity, deforestation, erosion and climate change by developing a curriculum based on the environment. The curriculum included classroom lessons and hands-on activities piloted in local schools.
In Chile, PADF is supporting Fundación Ciencia Joven to improve STEM education in the Valparaiso region by establishing afterschool STEM Academies at approximately 20 area schools for a total of 350 students. Fundación Ciencia Joven staff is providing STEM training and mentorships to area teachers who are leading their students through nine months of weekly classes, culminating in a Science and Exhibition Fair in which students from each Academy showcase hands-on projects they've tackled throughout the school year.
Panama's thriving economy has spawned the need for many new jobs that require STEM skills. However, the Panamanian work force is largely under qualified for such jobs. Therefore, employers are compelled to hire foreigners. We've partnered with FUNDESTEAM to equip 100 teachers with the necessary leadership skills to teach 1,800 students STEM subjects in Panama City, which has been dubbed the "City of Knowledge."
In the Bahamas, the island economy and culture is intrinsically connected to the ocean. The STEM for Oceans curriculum is reaching over 200 Bahamian public school students and at least 15 teachers with support from Royal Caribbean Ltd. These students and teachers are getting the opportunity to learn skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and communication, allowing them to give back to their community and be a part of the technological and developmental growth of their island nation.
Years of internal conflict have displaced nearly a million Colombians in Antioquia. In the post-conflict resettlement process, vulnerable families are searching for stability with which to reconstruct their lives. And with only a 20% high school graduation rate, modern education is scarce. PADF is partnering with the Jada Foundation to introduce STEM subjects into disadvantaged area schools.
PADF also worked for several years with the Corporación Matamoros to train wounded veterans and their families in skills needed for the workplace. Recently, the organization has incorporated math and financial literacy training for employees and trainees at a factory in the Bogotá area. At the same time, PADF’s Colombia office has developed a proposed project to stimulate STEM education in the city of Quibdó by training teachers in technological tools for teaching innovation and the scientific method, supporting students’ technological projects, and hosting an innovation and technology fair.
In Mexico, PADF promoted greater student engagement in science, technology, engineering and math, particularly among girls and indigenous communities that are disproportionately underrepresented in this field. A STEM Bootcamp allowed teachers to learn new and innovative methodologies for teaching STEM. These improved teaching methodologies were combined with hands-on projects such as science fairs, visits from STEM professionals and educational field trips that allow students to see how STEM fields are relevant for their lives. This program operated in the cities of Atlacomulco (Estado de México) and Tijuana (Baja California).
Science and technology education is fundamental to building a highly-skilled, professional work force in Latin America and for driving economic growth. When taught well, these subjects can inspire a sense of curiosity—which is tied to educational achievement—in even the youngest students.
Improving the scientific and analytical skills of students can solve a range of socioeconomic problems and help Latin American countries take a leading role in finding solutions to the region’s most challenging issues.