Have you heard it, the great call for the future? Across the United States, people are calling for a new wave of scientists and engineers. The advocates range from physicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson to the president himself, who says fostering education is key to American prosperity in the 21st century. President Obama called for an increased focus in science education for children in multiple State of the Union speeches, and in other events. “The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation, that’s an idea as old as America itself,” he said.
There’s a great demand for new scientists, for this generation of children and students to be versed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It’s not hard to see why — these are the fields that put humans on the Moon, give the world more advanced computers each year, and are key to solving pressing issues like climate change. Humans need science, not just to survive, but to thrive. And it’s not a thankless job, either. Tech jobs are booming, for everyone. Science-based industries are among the biggest growing sectors in the economy, with high median pay. Indeed, female candidates are now preferred for jobs in the STEM world, in spite of the image that has been used to keep women from STEM classes. By getting women interested in scientific fields at a young age, scientific industries will have not only more innovators, but a greater diversity as well. So the great call for a next generation of thinkers and scientists makes sense. But that rallying cry isn’t easily met.
Despite the boom of Silicon Valley and NASA and other scientific endeavors, the U.S. is struggling in the scientific fields. Regarding American investment in science, DeGrasse Tyson said “[w]e’re losing it. There’s something going on” and he is right. The United States ranks 52nd in science and math education on the World Economic Forum’s list. Standardized tests measuring science and math literacy show that American students are doing better than they were in the past, but still behind other industrialized nations. ACT test results show that many high school graduates who took the test aren’t prepared for college classes, including those in math and science; only 29 percent of the 2010 test takers are ready for science, 43 percent for math.
The problems facing students clearly start at a young age. To be well-versed in STEM topics, it’s clear that starting early is key to comprehension. But that’s not easy, and the difficulty comes in part from a struggle to maintain STEM education. Budget issues have cut education funds, and in many cases, that means that schools are losing valuable after-school activities, as well as advanced classes in the STEM field.
There have been attempts to boost the importance of science education to students, but they haven’t been able to fix all of the difficulties. President Obama recently announced a grant competition to inspire children, particularly from poorer backgrounds, in science. Half the country now counts computer science classes toward science requirements for graduation in high school, but it’s far from being a nationwide initiative. Many of the schools that offer after-school activities to help students interested in the fields can’t help everyone. The programs fill up, leaving many students stuck on wait lists. 19.4 million children have unmet demand for after-school programs, many in the STEM fields. And the results are clear: These delays and half-met measures are hurting students’ engagement with their education.
With those delays and holdups in mind, KitHub was launched to provide an easy and accessible alternative. KitHub aims to help engineers teach themselves, and give parents and teachers a new way to demonstrate scientific ideas with a hands-on approach. The founders, Luz Rivas and Tara Tiger Brown, launched the company in November 2014. Before starting KitHub, they each worked on designing scientific workshops for students and teachers. Their take on STEM education’s problems is to go DIY. They redefine the education as STEAM, “science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.” Instead of abstract ideas, students get to immerse themselves in tangible challenges, based on their own interests. KitHub offers a series of kits for beginners to experts that teaches electronics and engineering. The kits allow students to work with circuits, robotics, design, and even soldering.
In the last decade, technological advances gave the average person new agency to try new things, from making films to taking part in activism. Why shouldn’t that same mindset help science education? KitHub’s services allow children and students to experiment and practice with solid problems and devices at home or in classrooms. They’re an alternative to costly lab equipment and busy projects that can’t be adapted to everyone.
The United States, and the world at large, needs a new generation of scientists and engineers. Discovery and innovation happens best from people truly invested in what they’re doing. What better way to foster that then with a hands-on education?