STEAM to propel education forward

Tooba Hatif Farooqi

When it comes to education, we cannot have a “one size fits all” approach. Even in the same grade, children have varying intellectual, learning and emotional needs. There is no way what works for you is certified to work in my class. Perhaps, this is why teaching demands innovative approaches and unique ideas to improve instructional techniques and to influence the students in more effective and exciting ways.

If I were to define what innovation in the vertical of education looks like, I would say an approach that encapsulates a willingness to create and flexibility to adapt as well as provide a safe space to take risks and have the cheek to challenge.

In every sector of education, people are making efforts to come up with innovative ideas.

Students are leaning away from the traditional rote-learning methodologies and towards more participative approaches like peer learning, online learning and project-based activities to add an element of real-life experience to their learning process.

Similarly, teachers are integrating more inquiry-based approaches and experiential learning opportunities to improve student learning outcomes. While the modern-day classroom is improving with every passing day, the policymakers and international donor organisations are taking a special interest in social start-ups and for-profit ventures aiming to make the similar classroom practices and opportunities available to the public, as well as low-cost private schools.

Over the last 5 years, more and more entrepreneurs have ventured into education and are leveraging technology to bridge the achievement gap and empower the students with the 21st-century skills. There are projects like LearnOBots, Stemmers and Robotics Lab which are developing customised STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) projects for all age groups.

Initiatives like Science Fuse are working across Pakistan to promote science education and to inspire students to opt for a more hands-on approach. Then there are education ventures like SABAQ, Knowledge Platform and Orenda Project that are working to use digital education to improve everyday classroom learning experience for students as well as teachers at elementary, primary and secondary school level.

But all of these efforts are still in their embryonic stages and require efforts to replicate the programs on the national level. We cannot expect to produce scientists and innovators by following the similar dated approaches that have been around since our parents’ time. To enable innovation in the education sector, we will have to develop the capacity of our teachers and educators to embrace innovation. At this point in Pakistan, when 22.8 million children are out-of-school and the ones that are in the schools are not emerging as creative thinkers and innovators either; revolutionising education can change this. And what better way to do that then integrating STEAM education model?

When we talk about innovation in education, one can not move on without dwelling on the significance of STEAM learning approach. STEAM education has been around for a while now, and there is a misconception found among practitioners that STEAM education compartmentalises knowledge and excludes other subjects. I disagree. Instead, STEAM education encourages the students to be curious about the unknown, to invent the unimaginable, to solve the impossible and to improve the existing knowledge. And all of this can only be made possible if the applied knowledge is interdisciplinary.

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Now the question arises, are educators in Pakistan incorporating STEAM in their classroom? If not, what can they do change this? Whether you teach science, math or arts, incorporating one or more of these aspects into your lesson plan will ensure that the students are prepared to apply the knowledge in their real life.

    • Communicate –Encourage students to present their ideas and communicate the solution in eloquent and simple words.
    • Collaborate –Create a culture of collaboration in your classroom. Work together instead of working alone. For this encouraging students to use technology, more specifically, applications to work together on projects/assignments will create a genuine culture.
    • Experiment –Instead of giving the information to the students, encourage them to discover the answer by researching, analyzing the data and experimentation.
    • Problem Solving –From social to political, economic and scientific issues, the imagination of children has no boundaries. Lead your classroom to not only study about concepts but to solve problems.
    • Design Thinking –Provide students to create the solution to a problem and apply the knowledge acquired in the experimenting stage.

In the primary and secondary level of schooling in Pakistan, incorporating STEAM education is a far-fetched idea for the most. Other than a handful of private school chains training their teachers, no efforts have been made on the state level to mainstream STEAM education.

As an educator, I often found my self-contemplating, “Is our education system preparing our children to deal with the real world problems?” And the answer was negative every time. The traditional teaching and learning approaches only widen the literacy and achievement gap and prevents the students from developing crucial skills like critically problem-solving, and working in teams.

It is more important than ever now to bring our best minds together to prepare our next generation of creative thinkers and innovators.  While some educators in Pakistan will prefer to stick with the basics because it’s comfortable; there are those who would move heaven and earth to bring the most innovative approaches to their classroom, and mind you, these are teachers whose students shine the brightest.

The writer is a Programme Specialist at Sabaq. 

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