The gulf drilling explosion on the Deepwater Horizon caused an unprecedented disaster that left experts scrambling to discover the elusive solution that will halt the unceasing flow of pollutants. The question remains: How do we prevent this kind of disaster from happening again? The most sustainable and forward-thinking answer may lie in education. It is within the academic realm of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), often touted as the Achilles' heel of the U.S. educational system, that the foundations for future disaster-aversion could be built.
"The main thing that needs to be done is to connect the dots for students between learning math and science now, and using it later on to solve real-world problems," says Amy Jaffe, the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and associate director of the Rice University Energy Program.
"STEM education needs to start young," says Daylene Long, a member of the National Science Education Leadership Association and an affiliate member of the Council of State Science Supervisors. "We should be introducing kids to scientific processes, probeware, computer data collection, and robotics in elementary school."
For Long, a successfully implemented STEM program is one that trains students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers by teaching them not just the scientific facts, but more importantly, "the practices scientists and engineers use to understand the world and to draw conclusions based on evidence." By encouraging this kind of thinking, STEM not only develops future scientists and engineers, but also responsible citizens.
Yet bridging the gap cannot be the ultimate goal; getting students to walk across that bridge must be the aim of STEM programs. Unfortunately, this is The Deepwater Horizon drilling explosion is a real-world disaster that can show students the importance of pursuing STEM studies. often where STEM programs fail, where high school graduates get sidetracked and take an alternate route, one that perhaps engages their mathematical minds in finance and accounting rather than engineering and technology.
"At 7 years old, not too many children are sitting around thinking they'd like to make a killing on Wall Street," Jaffe says, "but they do have an honest and sincere interest in earth science, environmentalism, animals. The trick is to show the connection between learning math and science and being a person that can save the world."