This story also ran on Forbes.com.
If 2018 was the year that teachers walked out, scientists and teachers ran for office in unprecedented numbers, and the news was filled with a steady stream of reports on the value of a STEM degree, and 2019 was the year that the public’s respect for teachers grew, walkouts waned, education was increasingly defined by its relationship to the (STEM) workforce, and more schools started to integrate soft skills because of a growing focus on the whole child, what does 2020 have in store for us? This week, my organization, 100Kin10, released its annual Trends Report, a synthesis of thousands of data points that predict trends and “look-aheads” that will define STEM and education in 2020. Here are some highlights:
1. Teacher Diversity: Supporting Students (Especially Students of Color) by Recruiting and Supporting Teachers of Color
The dearth of people of color working in STEM industries is getting more attention in the media and in government. We’re particularly keen to see more organizations connecting the dots between this issue and the lack of teachers of color in America’s diversifying schools. To increase student engagement and success in STEM, students of color need to see and learn from STEM teachers who look like them. People of color represent 50% of students in the United States, but less than 20% of teachers.
We see organizations across the education landscape, from school districts to higher education to philanthropy, taking up this challenge and partnering in new ways to increase the diversity of the STEM teacher workforce, examine school structures that are harmful to teachers of color, and ensure that school leaders have the tools they need to cultivate a culturally-responsive school environment.
With executives and recruiters increasingly understanding the importance of a diverse workforce, we expect a corresponding increased focus on getting more students of color (and by extension, teachers of color) engaged in STEM, which is critical to increasing equality in the STEM fields.
2. The T in STEM Gains Prominence: Technology Proficiency as a Core Life Skill
Students are growing up in an age where technology is an integral part of our lives, and for many of them, it’s also an integral part of the classroom. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/18/education/artificial-intelligence-tutors-teachers.html] 2020 will be the year when technology officially transcends the smart board and educators understand that we need to approach its use comprehensively.
We’ve seen schools embracing the T in STEM by teaching hard and soft skills, as well as digital literacy and technological competency. The more wide-scale embrace of making has shifted millions of Americans from being consumers of technology to producers of it, and the tools of making are more and more widely available; just look at the work of the Digital Harbor Foundation. Organizations, teacher training programs and school systems across the country are supporting teachers in their quest to incorporate technology into the classroom through a variety of techniques, including making sure that digital literacy is part of teacher preparation and training. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has created tools for educators and school systems to guide students smartly, safely, and powerfully into digital citizenship.
A cautionary note: Twenty years ago, we were laser-focused on the digital divide. Nonetheless, there remains a persistent inequity in both the IT infrastructure and the hardware that makes technology and technologically-driven learning accessible. This is especially true in our rural schools and for communities at the intersections of poverty and race.
3. Computer Science is Hot but There’s a Lag in Teacher Supply
Computer science is a burgeoning field, and states have begun to respond to increasing interest from students, parents and employers. More than 40 states passed policies to increase access to computer science among K-12 learners in the last four years. But with millions of unfilled computer science jobs opening in the next decade with not enough graduates to fill them, we’re missing a critical aspect of training the workforce: computer science teachers.
We know that developing the workforce we’ll need in the coming years to fill STEM jobs, like those in computer science, starts with solving the root of the problem: recruiting, training and retaining enough computer science teachers to prepare our students for this field. We are expecting to see an increased focus on building the computer science teacher workforce we need for this growing demand, as well as innovative ways to incorporate computational thinking into the curricula of other subjects. UT Austin’s WeTeach_CS program works with other leaders in computer science and teacher training to prepare teachers for classrooms of students eager to learn this critical skill. This organization has provided professional development and support in computer science to more than 500 teachers since 2015.
4. Climate Change is This Generation’s Moonshot
“You must unite behind the science,” demanded TIME person of the year Greta Thunberg when she spoke to Congress in September last year. And indeed, Greta and other young activists have united millions of young people behind science. As students take charge in the fight against climate change, they will need stronger and more relevant STEM learning to fuel their activism – and to have the knowledge to create the solutions our planet desperately needs. If there is a silver lining to the climate crisis, this is it: It can mobilize a new generation in STEM and innovation and provide purpose and relevance to their learning.
Last year, reports showed that while teachers are interested in teaching their students about climate change, they often don’t have the resources they need to do so effectively – or are barred from engaging in climate science at all. There are curricular tools out there – NOAA and its partners have been designing instructional materials and supporting teachers to use them for more than a decade – but most kids and teachers don’t yet have access. We’ll need more resources, fewer political hurdles, and more integrated STEM learning opportunities to maximize this moment. We hope that 2020 is the year that climate leads the way in showing that personally- and career-relevant learning in K-12 can energize learning for all kids, from all backgrounds, in STEM. Our planet just might hang in the balance.