New computer programs designed to teach children multiplication and division, interactive demonstrations of electricity and magnetism, and molecular models used to teach key biology concepts were all on display at the MIT Media Lab during an event examining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
The event, dubbed “Scaling STEM” and hosted by MIT President L. Rafael Reif and U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), focused on how to use technology to improve access to quality STEM education for all students. The afternoon featured demonstrations of new learning tools and outreach efforts, presentations by leading education experts, and a panel discussion.
In his opening remarks, Reif shared why improving access to STEM education is so important to him. He recalled how, as a young student of limited means, studying textbooks developed by MIT faculty members inspired him to pursue a career as an engineer. Reif knew intimately, he said, that education can transform a young person’s life, “because it certainly transformed mine.”
Sanjay Sarma, dean of digital learning at MIT, related how, during the process of compiling the Institute-wide Task Force report on the future of MIT education, he and his colleagues realized that MIT has a mission to “make learning and education available – to all levels.” The key to providing this sort of access, he explained, is making education scalable, adaptable, and attainable to a wide variety of people around the world.
Discussion during the event focused on how educators could not only improve STEM pedagogy, but also how they might reach the many children around the world who lack access to quality STEM education.
Kennedy described increasing opportunities for students to engage with science and engineering at a young age, but said more needed to be done and applauded MIT’s efforts to reach out to underserved populations. “This is an area where MIT is leading the way,” Kennedy said.
Jeffrey Leiden, CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, emphasized the importance of extending the reach of STEM education to attract more women and minorities to related fields. He noted that science and technology were revolutionizing the way we live our lives, and that the only way for this progress to continue, is to “train the next generation of leaders.”
One example could be found in the work of Faria Kader, a high school senior who traveled to her native Bangladesh this summer to teach children about science. Using learning modules and curriculum developed by the MIT Edgerton Center, Kader provided 150 Bangladeshi students with new projects and learning opportunities. Edward Moriarty, an Edgerton Center instructor, added that Kader’s work, and the learning modules developed by the Edgerton Center, are not solely focused on STEM: Another purpose behind this outreach work is to get children “encouraged and wanting to learn.”