When it comes to K-12 education in the U.S., there is a significant shortage of qualified STEM and computer science (CS) teachers available to the students who will need to be aptly prepared in these fields in the future workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1.4 million open computing and STEM jobs by 2020 but only 400,000 CS and STEM graduates with the skills to fill them.
More importantly, only 1 in 9 Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) members have actually taken a college course in CS, and only 5-7% have a degree or certificate in STEM or CS. There are also, on average, 5,000 jobs available to CS and STEM teachers each year because of an attrition rate of 15% in the first five years of a CS and STEM educator’s career.
How are students supposed to be aptly prepared for these careers, that will dominate the landscape of the future workforce, when their teachers aren’t prepared themselves?
Fortunately, higher ed entities -- along with established K-12 initiatives -- are starting to play a pivotal role in fixing the growing shortage of qualified U.S. STEM and CS teachers. For example, the UTeach program at the University of Texas in Austin helps students pursuing degrees in math and science also secure teacher certification for these areas of focus.
However, there is always more to do. Without highly-qualified STEM and CS teachers available to every school and classroom, the future of our economy will suffer.
What more can be done?
Programs Need to Engage Current Educators
It’s Not Enough to Solely Reach Prospective Educators
The UTeach program is inspiring; however, it operates under the premise that students who are pursuing STEM and CS majors will also be interested in becoming educators in these areas of focus when they graduate. Unfortunately, the incentives for teachers in these fields of study are often outweighed by the quality of jobs available to them outside education.
While job incentives in education are a bigger problem that needs to be addressed, and while the certification at UTeach is an incredible initiative, it’s time for higher ed programs to begin placing a greater importance on engaging current educators with more opportunities to continue growing in their profession.
It’s important to grow programs that keep a continued influx of new teachers entering the field; however, it’s also imperative to continue to support and provide current teachers with opportunities and resources that afford them the chance to reach new heights.
Industry Must Work with Higher Ed
STEM & CS Programs Need to Incorporate Authentic Experiences
Having programs put in place that can train and certify educators in STEM and CS is only the beginning. The next step is to ensure that these programs are applicable and relevant to the modern workforce, and what students will be encountering in their future careers.
In order for this to be accomplished, educators in programs like these need to have the opportunity to interact with industry experts in STEM and CS, so they can experience first-hand the types of careers students will encounter when they leave the classroom.
Educators prepared with the type of training and real-world work experience found in leading industries are more likely to engage students interested in these fields.
Professional Learning Experiences Play Key Role
Students Need Well-Prepared Teachers
A study addressing teacher preparation in STEM areas -- Teacher Preparation: One Key to Unlocking the Gate to STEM Literacy -- found “that only a thorough familiarity with STEM content will enable a teacher to effectively engage a class of middle or high school students in STEM learning.”
While the authentic experiences from industry prepare educators in programs with the real-world knowledge they need, there is an understated value in receiving training from facilitators who are well-versed in how these practices can be implemented in K-12 classrooms. Highly prepared teachers are the key to STEM/CS sustainability and the missing link between students and industry.
If the program takes a holistic approach to developing curriculum and experiential learning, it’s more likely that the students, whom these educators will be teaching, will gain relevant knowledge that will directly impact how they operate in their work environments.
This is why professional learning is such an imperative part of the program. While industry can associate real-world STEM/CS experiences to the higher ed program/certificate, it’s ultimately professional learning that supports successful classroom implementability.
Clearly there is not only a shortage of qualified STEM and CS teachers, but also a shortage of students who are entering the workforce prepared with the skills to take jobs in these fields. Educators continue to be our greatest lever in preparing students for the modern workforce, and unless they are adequately equipped with the training they need to engage students in STEM and CS, the future of our economy is likely to suffer.
Fortunately, organizations and higher education are starting to take the steps necessary to ensuring educators have the access they need to become dynamic supporters of STEM/CS education in K-12 schools and classrooms.