Global Talent Development Can Be Enhanced Through International STEM Teacher Exchange and Collaboration
Knowledge about the economy is very important to all of us.
In fact, understanding of what influences world economy is considered to be so important that, since 1969 it has its own designated Nobel Prize alongside with medicine, chemistry, physics, literature and peace. Only a few highly specialized scholars may fully understand the complex relationships that affect world economic forces. However, a simple relationship is common knowledge to all: When people apply their talent, knowledge and skills to invent, manufacture and trade goods and services, they directly and indirectly affect economic trends. So, it follows that global talent development is closely related to the global economy.
Talent development is a lifelong continuum of formal, informal and experiential learning and honing of skills. It includes the application and practice of competencies with productive feedback from teachers, trainers and team members, and it never ends. Our modern society relies on the responsibility of formal education institutions to give students a firm foundation for this process so it can continue in the workplace, where one of the one of the most highly valued competencies is innovation.
Among the many scholastic fields, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), have been closely tied to indicators of innovation, and are therefore critical for economic development in all countries and for trade in the global marketplace.
There is strong evidence that K-12 inquiry-based , experiential learning leads to increased student achievement (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), supporting the notion that student interest, engagement and comprehension increases when content and pedagogy is relevant for dealing with real life, day-to-day scenarios and practical problem solving.
This paper explores the central role of STEM learning, as a means of K-12 talent development, and opportunities that exist to accelerate international collaboration in the area of competency development of teachers.
While the acromyn STEM stands for four key subjects in education, the use of this term implies considerably more than merely an organizational principle for coordination of curriculum and instruction in these subject areas.
So, What is STEM?
Since its introduction in the first years of the new century, STEM has become one of the most powerful drivers of change in US K-12 education. Under President Obama's administration, multi-million dollar grant programs have been launched in support of STEM education in the US, and in large part as a consequence of that, vast numbers of new non- and for profit enterprises are now dedicated to promote, assist and improve this area of education. Most of these business entities direct their services to students and teachers. Some specialize in assisting corporations in their charitable education outreach, and some offer assistance to parents and other STEM education stakeholders. In order to support their particular business objectives, this multitude of organizations has introduced a wide range of definitions of the term STEM, contributing more to confusion than clarification of the actual meaning.
While these recent developments have occured in the education sector, it is intersesting to note that, over the past 50 years, changes in the workplace sector of the economy have taken place driven by science, technology, engineering and math. This evolution of workplace behavior has largely been determined by forces of global competitive innovation, technical development, communication and economy. Interestingly, this powerful and sweeping change was never labeled by a specific collective term. However, now viewed in the light of the educational imperative, it can contribute an important new definition of the term STEM.
STEM is the generic organizational and individual, multidisciplinary behavior which leads to innovation and increased productivity, regardless of the final product or service. This definition is deliberately so broad and general that it describes the process used to transform early ideas into marketable products by all enterprises, from very small to extremely large, simple manufacturing and highly technical, widget producers and conceptual advisory service providers alike, privately operated, governmental and local as well as global business. Effective ”STEM behavior”entails information transfer, use of tools, templates and technology, accumulation of experience as well as procedures for planning and coordination, evaluation and projection, trade, investment, management and administration. Defined this way, STEM is both omnipresent and invisible, specific and general, tangible and elusive. Yet, every workplace can describe it in their own terms. Most importantly, every employer can describe it in terms of what their employees must know and be able to do.
This leads to an inescapable conclusion, namely that the education and workplace sectors - the former preparing the talent that the latter needs and employs - stand to gain significant mutual benefits from a close collaboration and frequent communication. Yet, such collaboration is still a relatively rare occurance, both in the US and abroad.
Who Drives STEM in Education?
Having acknowledged the importance of close communication and collaboration between the education and workplace sectors, it follows that this is equally important at the international level as at the national and regional levels. This brings us back to the question of how to strengthen the outcomes of international exchange between educational leaders.
First, with a keen eye to the recent years' PISA reports and learnings from Singapore, Hong Kong and Finland, among other leadership nations, the value of the teaching profession cannot be overestimated. Hence, it makes good sense from every perspective to invest in the leadership capacity of the classroom teacher. This is the professional who is best positioned to translate the STEM-based workplace reality to the circumstances suited for student learning in the classroom environment. He/she is also the person outside the home, responsible for laying down a foundation, on which students will build their readiness for global citizenry.
The idea of placing the teacher in focus of education improvement is anything but novel. It is in fact so commonplace that it rarely leads to an engaging debate among stakeholders. OECD reporting has convincingly concluded that quality teaching is closely correlated with the status of the profession, as perceived by both the teachers themselves and other education stakeholders. This, in turn is related to the degree of influence that the individual teacher has on his/her day to day work in the classroom, even if this is closely regulated by the national education plan, framworks and education standards. The teaching profession, with all its influential factors is no less complex than any other, and equally dependent on talent.
Consider the three Rs of talent management. First Recruitment. Suffice it to say that any job, widely regarded as important and hence fairly compensated and well supported, will attract discerning candidates able to compete based on competence. Second, the Reward for a job well done must be proportional to the value to all stakeholders. Rewards are not only measured in monetary units. In fact, the millennial generation is often said to confer greater importance to other expressions, including opportuny for personal development, flexible working conditions and respect of the individual's need for family and life qualities. Finally, Retention of competent professionals depends on how they are valued as individual contributors, and the degree to which professional support and workplace circumstances reflect this value.
Having concluded that teachers are the primary drivers of effective STEM education, it is logical to focus our attention and efforts on their development as professional STEM specialists as a step towards increased job satisfaction.
Why Is STEM Education Important Everywhere?
Each of the four STEM disciplines are globally recognized both in theory and practice, bridging over geographical borders as well as language and cultural barriers. This perspective is not obvious from the vantage point of the K-12 classroom, but it is important that teachers of STEM are able to effectively convey this to their students. There are several important reasons for this:
Developing global citizens. In today’s world of people movement, both voluntary and forced, children are increasingly exposed to foreign languages and cultures early in life. They need to be able to learn together and collaborate with each other both in and out of school, and STEM offers unique opportunities both for building individual confidence and respect for others’ skills and abilities. In preparing children for adult life in tomorrow’s world we must absolutely introduce them early to the complexities of global citizenry.
Increasing International competitiveness. Later in life, STEM knowledge, skills and behavior are powerful competencies that can help an individual gain competitive advantage in job applications, already from graduation. The importance of STEM knowledge transfer may be obvious for professionals seeking international opportunities. However, for young persons living in countries with uncertain futures, and whose ambitions may not include international careers, can also be greatly helped by having strong STEM skills.
Offering cross-cultural role model. The STEM teacher can be an exmplary role model in both scenarios. Skilled K-12 STEM teachers who themselves represent foreign cultures in the context of the classroom, can collaborate closely with ”native” colleagues in modelling effective STEM problem solving across disciplinary lines. For a young, active learner nothing is more inspiring than engaging role models who bring relevance to the classroom experience.
How Do We Reach Across the Globe?
Globalization is predominantly a function of international trade, which in turn is driven by business and industry. Hence, the network of international corporate connectivity offers a natural scaffold for international education initiatives. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs often have an education component, typically focused on the communities where they operate, but not infrequently also foster national and international leadership development. Multinational corporations have a stake in the global STEM talent pipeline since they employ people in several countries and rely of their staff’s ability to collaborate across borders. These companies are organized as international networks, designed to make effective use of supply lines for R&D and manufacturing and to distribute products and services to all customers, all while operating on shared company values. Such international networks can be effective conduits of workplace-connected K-12 STEM learning.
Further, the network of engineering academies is an important link between education/academia and the corporate sector that can help advance public and private interests in innovation, engineering and manufacturing. Frequently, members of these academies are appointed from among the corporate roster of leaders. It is therefore no surprise that engineering academies are thoroughly familiar with the operational principles of large corporations. For this reason, these academies are highly valuable partners to national education leaders and multinational corporations who offer CSR programs with focus on education and talent development.
How Can We Help STEM Teachers Drive Global Talent Development?
First, to summarize a few key issues:
· Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, which underpin innovation, are of vital importance for our future citizenry and economic growth everywhere.
· Teachers are at the most important drivers of STEM education.
· STEM is firmly anchored in business and industry, and increased collaboration with education will result in mutual benefits.
· Strengthened collaboration over international STEM education will befit all nations.
Building on this, I propose that that leaders in national STEM education (regardless of country), corporate social responsibility programs and international academy networks collaborate to advance international STEM teacher connection and exchange.
To break new ground in this area, we must clearly define the objectives and the challenges to overcome.
· Increase teachers’ insights into knowledge, skills and alternative effective classroom practices that be implemented in their own schools.
· Expose teachers to international and global issues that need to be considered in order to better prepare students for global citizenry.
· Explore how business/industry practices and organizational behaviors can be described and included in STEM education in the classroom.
· Develop a sustainable professional international network of STEM teachers.
Second, important challenges—and ways to address them:
Measurement of effectiveness. What constitutes success? Obviously, student achievement outcomes must be at the center of program evaluation. However, in the near term, program effectiveness may have to be measured in terms of how the participants’ classroom practice is influenced. Over time, outcomes in terms of teacher and student attitudinal change to the understanding of STEM, innovation, international collaboration and global issues must be considered. A definition of Proof of Concept must be established, including but not limited to these parameters.
Language barriers. Initially, countries that share either of three languages, English, Spanish or French, can form partnerships which engage key leaders and teachers in public and private sectors. Over time, overarching global network communication and exchange can be established with a preferred language.
Leadership and administration. The interests of National Engineering Academies, which include talent development and access to employable talent, are well-aligned with the objectives of programs aimed at international STEM teacher exchange. These organizations are well-positioned to lead international efforts and coordinate private-public STEM partnerships, particularly as this promotes multinational corporate interests with emphasis on innovation.
Funding. During a pilot phase, private sector funding will be important. Hence, flexibility in program design will be necessary in order to build on currently operational corporate programs. Proof of Concept (see above) in hand, additional funding will be sought through independent, government and private foundations.
A sustainable Program for International STEM Teacher Exchange should be initially designed as a demonstration project with a limited number of pilot partnerships between countries operating well-established IBSE* programs. Examples are Mexico, Chile, France, Canada, UK, Germany, Sweden and USA. Within this cluster it is clearly feasible to identify three language-based partnerships for a small scale pilot demonstration project. There are examples of corporate education support and engineering academies in all these countries.
Leadership in STEM education takes on many forms and requires many competencies. Besides the ability to work effectively within the framework of national policies, budgetary and organizational constraints, it requires dogged determination, results orientation and a visionary dedication to improvement. When addressing the challenges of preparing students for a less well-defined future reality which is directly influenced by global events, it will also require breaking new ground and engaging partners traditionally not called upon. It is my belief that the time has come to redefine the role of precollege educators as preparers of employable talent and to push the boundaries for private-public partnership goals towards global impact.
*IBSE (Inquiry-Based Science Education) is a term frequently used within an international network of education leaders affiliated with the Inter-Academies Panel, to designate effective teacher classroom practices and curriculum materials, designed to foster experiential learning.
About the author: Anders Hedberg, Ph.D., is an experienced pharmaceutical industry executive, who now applies his science and corporate social responsibility expertise to international STEM education. By linking business and education together for better talent preparation, he helps strengthen the global workforce pipeline.