Opinion Columns & Blogs

Start early with STEM education

Even though we have another month of summer left, my thoughts are already turning to the new school year that will be here in September. I think of all the students who will be engaging in all the exciting discoveries that await them, their parents, and their teachers. I am concerned that too many of our students, especially our youngest learners who have such great potential, may not be ready and may struggle academically, socially, and developmentally.

As an economic development professional, I know that today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce and they need to be prepared for the global economy we now live in. Our children need to master an education that readies them to compete with their peers from around the world.

It is important that we all take interest in laying the foundations for the future pipeline of highly-skilled workers that Washington businesses need to continue to innovate and grow in today’s marketplace, especially in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

There is a growing body of research suggesting that developing science, technology, engineering, and math proficiency starts much earlier than high school, middle school, or even elementary school. Appropriate play-based activities—like using clocks and calendars, games with data and chance, weighing and measuring play dough, sand, and crayons, using the five senses, and exploring the great outdoors with our youngest children—can build interest in STEM fields. My hope for each child is that their learning environment nurtures and grows their instinctive curiosity and exploratory natures.

While kids think it’s fun, curiosity-building activities with young children can help establish pre-math and pre-science skills and that will be important for jobs in the future. Discussion of Washington state’s skills gap is rightfully a hot topic. ReadyNation reports that there are 25,000 unfilled jobs in Washington as a result of the jobs-skills gap, 80 percent of which are in high-skills STEM and health-care roles. The number of jobs in these fields will continue to grow and by 2020 it is estimated that 93 percent of those jobs will require post-secondary education.

Research also tells us that while the first three-to-five years of life are a unique period of growth for a child’s brain, disadvantaged children can be up to 18 months behind their peers when they start kindergarten. This gap is particularly pronounced for math skills and for literacy abilities. This is important because preschool children’s knowledge of math predicts their later school success into elementary and even high school. . Access to high-quality early learning that includes pre-math and pre-science content can close those gaps.

Washington employers need a smart, flexible, and dynamic workforce capable of competing in a global economy. It is my hope that our public policy makers will continue to make high-quality early childhood education a funding priority to secure the economic future of our children, our state, and our businesses.