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Is it Getting STEAMi Here?

The last in a three-part series, Asia Society's Heather Singmaster questions whether education should get STEAMier.

by Heather Singmaster

Last week Education Week reporter Eric Robelen wrote an article on the case for adding arts to science, technology, engineer, and math—or STEM—education entitled, STEAM: Experts Make Case for Adding Arts to STEM.

It caught my eye because I had just heard the term "STEAM" (the "A" is for "arts") being used in Korea where Tony Jackson and I attended the 2011 Global Education Symposium.

Mr. Jin-Hyung KIM, Director, Global HR Cooperation Team, Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in Korea, opened the conference by underscoring the importance of well-educated citizens as the engine that drives development and competitiveness. He said, "Great teachers are like the fuel that keeps this engine running."

After the Korean War, the economy there was decimated. Realizing that the country's largest resource was its people, the Korean government invested heavily in its education system. It paid off: the gross domestic product (GDP) went from $2 billion in 1960 to over $1 trillion in 2010, making it the 15th most prosperous country in the world.

A large focus in education reform went into science and math, resulting in not only high PISA scores, but also a top-four ranking in the world in science and technology competitiveness and a top-three ranking in research and development to GDP ratio.

With such an impressive math and science track record, when Mr. Kim adds in the fact that their focus is not on STEM, but on STEAM, the world listens.

While the United States is narrowing the curriculum under No Child Left Behind, the result is the arts are increasingly excluded. Korea, a country at the top of science and technology ingenuity, has been increasing its curricular emphasis precisely in that area.

Mr. Kim spoke about the challenges of global competition and that the key to their response is global education, including STEAM. By including the arts as a component of education, they hope to nurture creative talents with interdisciplinary approaches and problem-solving skills. Improving teachers' global capacities is seen as a way to foster creative and talented people and fuel the drivers of the economy.

STEM, STEAM, or STEAMi?

Learning from other countries is key to the success of high-performing nations. So why shouldn't the U.S. also take these lessons into account? Looking at the practices of countries described in Wednesday's post and in Korea today would certainly point to the adoption of not just STEAM in the United States, but of STEAMi.

STEMi is a term that we at Asia Society first proposed in 2009 but again became a topic of conversation after NAFSA's Vic Johnson posted this excellent piece on the topic.

With our competition clearly focused on bringing an international dimension to their curriculum together with the arts, music, and even physical education, why wouldn't we expand our conversation from STEM to STEAMi?

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