December 09, 2020

Empowering our youth through education: STEM versus STEAM and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By Marius Burger, CIO at SEACOM

In a fast-paced world where everything is constantly changing, education should also be transforming to keep up with evolving tech. Twenty-first-century jobs demand science, technology, engineering, and maths skills, as well as the capability to problem solve and think critically. There’s no denying the power of STEM education to empower our youth with the resources they need to thrive in the future, however, a fifth element – the arts – adds creative confidence and collaboration into the mix, opening even more doors for students.

The similarities and differences between STEM and STEAM education

Having taken global education by storm, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Focusing on how these four disciplines overlap, STEM-based learning seeks to equip students with digital literacy and multidisciplinary knowledge to take on a career in the modern world.

On the other hand, STEAM represents STEM plus the arts, including humanities, language, social sciences, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design, and new media. Educators who advocate for STEAM believe that the arts are a key cog in an interdisciplinary, well-rounded education, and are necessary for creative thinking for the future.

Both approaches promote science-based learning to prepare students for a digitised workforce, where jobs in these sectors are increasingly in demand. STEAM takes the same scientific concepts from STEM but uses the creative process to investigate them. This means that students in STEAM settings are able to connect concepts and solve problems in new, innovative ways.

Preparing future generations for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Jobs in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will require a 21st-century skillset that includes problem solving, creative confidence, critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration. Teaching these crucial capabilities in schools can help us grow a future-ready workforce that understands how to solve real-life problems and ask “what if”.

By weaving the arts into a STEM curriculum, endless opportunities and intersection points for career paths come to life. In 2018, LinkedIn named creativity as “the most important skill in the world”, and the World Economic Forum placed it third out of 10 skills employees need to thrive in the 4IR, behind complex problem solving and critical thinking. The Forum’s The Future of Jobs report explains, “With the avalanche of new products, new technologies, and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative to benefit from these changes.”

Creativity is also cited by Forbes as one of the 10 vital skills needed for the future of work and one of the most important job skills companies are currently looking for.

And with more AI-driven solutions being integrated into modern workplaces, creativity will be a crucial differentiator that will set humans apart from robots. The verdict is out – creative skills are in for the future and will become essential to driving any business forward through innovation.

Modern learning and digital transformation

By challenging the misconception that children who are good at maths and science can’t be artistic and creative, and vice versa, STEAM fuses the best of both worlds of learning, and enables a multifaceted, open-minded, and inclusive way of thinking about the world around us. And by supporting ICT skills development, both STEM and STEAM education propel digital transformation forward – incredibly important in our own country and continent.

Despite STEAM’s value of crafting digitally and technologically competent learners, according to local non-profit Arts and Ubuntu Trust, as little as 5% of South African schools provide art as a school-leaving subject. Something needs to change if we are to create a digitally competent workforce who can not only understand technical topics, but also apply creativity in innovative ways and reshape our future.

Committed to driving infrastructure that enables access to digital services, and in turn, fostering sought-after skills, SEACOM is helping all South Africans – both young and old – to harness their full digital potential.