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Today, advanced technologies are essential to how we live. Some level of technical literacy is necessary for each of us.
How can we continue to let a single student leave school without the ability to make informed decisions on technical matters? How can we afford to think that technology-illiterate graduates are adequately prepared to participate in 21st Century society?
The importance of K-12 STEM education is not lost on our country’s policy makers. President Obama mentions it often, including prominently in his most recent State of the Union address. STEM is vital; it means jobs. It builds the strength of the U.S. engineering workforce. It contributes to the health of our economy.
But technical literacy is necessary for everybody, not just those entering technical careers. Our system of education should make sure that students graduate capable of informed decisions about stem cell research, or nanotechnology, or the construction and maintenance of bridges. Only a technically literate society can make wise decisions about hydraulic fracturing, or nuclear power, or the rollout of Smartgrid technology. How can we decide what to do about the Keystone XL pipeline when most people don’t understand the important issues?
I’m an engineer by training, not an educator. I defer to professional educators to determine how technical literacy can best be broadly achieved. But I do know this: it needs to happen. Our students need more exposure to applied science and technology in our educational institutions.
Our era is characterized by the advance of sophisticated technologies. Nearly everything about our way of life has been revolutionized by technology, to everybody’s benefit. Our very life expectancy has grown by decades just in the last century, in large part because of such advances. So much depends on the choices we make about these systems; we ought to do what it takes to educate ourselves to make the best decisions we can.
Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you’ll write in and sound off. I look forward to the conversation.
I agree with Marc's comments and would like to expand on his line of thought. As a high school math teacher (my first career), I did not see students leaving the classroom knowing how to us the tools that allowed them to enrich their lives or interact intelligently with the world around them. They mainly prepared to pass the nearest approaching textbook assessment. Whether this is a culture or curriculum problem is not the issue here. Integrating projects that simulated real experiences helped them to see why the tools are useful but the level of confidence in their knowledge never reached the point to where they could think independently about an issue. For example, saying an energy creating technology could produce so much power doesn't mean anything if a student can't figure out how many homes that can sustain or how it compares to other types of energy technologies.
Also, as an engineer I see many of my family and friends buying into new technologies without questioning the impact of the technology and especially not questioning how it works, but only how do I use it? This is mainly because they are not confident enough in their scientific knowledge to try.
I would say the biggest difference between what I have experienced as a teacher and an engineer is: As a teacher, knowledge was found in books and was returned as homework/assessments, however, as an engineer knowledge was found in books and was directly applied to a project that further increased knowledge.
Overall, if we want people to be technically literate we have to provide them with experiences (at every age) that they can relate to and give them a base for their understanding.
"ASME is a real promoter of the Arts, Science, and Technology."
Ali Baghchehsara II, ASME Student Member since 2011
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