Header image courtesy of Gabby K (via Pexels)
We often hear people say in semi-guilty tones how much they pity the younger generations, and how it’s so much more difficult growing up now than it was back then. While it may be true that the youngsters of today face a completely different set of challenges in their lives—including a responsibility to better our planet— it’s important to remember that they are also blessedly equipped with advancements in science and technology which provides them with the help that was unavailable for older generations.
When discussing education and transferable skills, the term that crops up most often is STEM. We consulted with the lovely folks at LivinFarms about what exactly STEM is, and why sustainability should play a much larger role in education.
The term STEM is being bandied around a lot these days, but at its fundamental level, it stands for education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. On a deeper level, STEM is an experiential learning approach that aims to not just impart facts, but rather cultivate engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving—skills which we’re sure everyone will agree are invaluable in every workplace.
Rather than tackling them as separate subjects as traditional education models would have done, STEM integrates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into a cohesive learning method based on real-world applications. The idea is that through pursuing these four disciplines across all development levels—from pre-school to even post-doctorate—new generations of bright young minds will be equipped with the wherewithal to improve our world and make a change.
This acronym picked up popularity in the 2000s, but the idea has already been around since the mid-1990s, and is a model that can benefit both the student and the community. The number of well-paying STEM jobs is growing every day, with statistics showing that STEM workers earn 26 percent more than employees without a STEM background. In 2017, direct STEM employment accounted for 69 percent of the entire US GDP.
With the STEM sectors supporting more and more jobs, it’s no wonder that the Hong Kong education system is also shifting its focus to be more digital- and science-oriented to keep up with the times.
Firstly, there is a definitional challenge that plagues STEM. There is not a single definition of a “STEM job,” but many wrongly assume that it only includes careers such as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, researchers, or in info-tech. The truth is that STEM is much more widely encompassing than that, and the four branches of the STEM tree stretch far; whether you are interested meteorology, cooking, deep-sea creature, or something in between, there are likely to be STEM job counterparts that encompass this interest!
STEM skills are also less niche than some may think. The focus on such skills may have been narrow and specific to only a handful of industries in the past, but these have quickly become much more mainstream, so much so that nearly every modern white-collar job will require them. For example, you don’t need to be in IT or working with big data to need digital skills on your CV. Skills such as computing and data visualisation are needed across a wide range of industries and positions now, and STEM education provides this know-how.
Most importantly, STEM learning isn’t just something else to be tacked on to an overloaded child’s calendar, because it is already part of their education. It just needs to be nurtured and directed towards the right cause! STEM skills are geared to be impactful and meaningful, and what more important cause to apply this to than halting climate change and regenerating the planet? If STEM skills are to be the future, they have to be applied to saving the environment.
Another term that has become a buzzword and is bandied around a lot, sustainability at its core is the ability for humanity and the biosphere to co-exist harmoniously. In order to be sustainable, we have to balance the three fundamental pillars of economic development, social development, and environmental protection—and we all know that the last pillar is in dire straits right now.
In the Brundtland Report by the United Nations, sustainable development was defined as growing in a way that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Managing such a feat requires cohesion across a wide range of industries and disciplines, including but not limited to chemical engineering, resources management, green computing, environmental sciences, law, consumerism, conservation biology, marketing, economics, and urban planning—needless to say, these are all sectors where STEM skills are high in demand!
Since STEM education is all about real-life application and teaching skills that go further than just theories, it only makes sense to incorporate environmental sustainability into such teaching. Along with the recent drive to gain a larger female presence in STEM, there is another pressing issue that education needs to address and that is the global climate crisis. The world as we know it is worsening day by day, and will be inherited by today’s youth in its dire state. The only way in which this generation can live on a better planet is for them to be equipped with the skills for improvement.
Humanity’s continued success depends entirely on our ability to achieve equilibrium between humans and the ecosystem. We’re not claiming that we can halt climate change and other environmental issues in their tracks from one day to the next, but there’s no question that sustainability and a green mindset is the way forward. The “S” in STEM (which stands for Science) should encompass sustainability and environmental education as well in order to tackle the environmental challenges of today and tomorrow.
As mentioned, Hong Kong’s education system is shifting towards a more STEM-oriented approach, but much remains to be done for our future generations and their futures. In a fast-paced society like our city, it’s all too easy to get caught up balancing a whirlpool of classes, extracurricular activities, tuition, and active time for parents to sit down and access whether or not their children are truly getting enough exposure to important STEM education.
International schools have already established much of this hands-on learning, and more local schools are also seeing the value in interactive STEM lessons, but the fact remains that what’s missing is a focus on sustainability, on linking students in the classroom to the nature outside so they can understand the bigger issues at play in the environment.
With Covid-19 still not packing it in, this increased time spent at home is as good a time as ever to bring the outdoors into your home, and introduce your child to an entertaining and unique start to sustainability as part of STEM.
The Hive Explorer by LivinFarms began as an educational investigation into alternatives for our current food system. Insects proved to be a great solution for people to grow their own protein source at home with minimal carbon footprint, and they realised that people need to learn about and normalise insects as part of the conversation in sustainability. This revolutionary product encourages us to rethink the consumption patterns that we take for granted, and it’s accompanied by a 13-lesson educational programme running alongside called the Hive Hero Academy camp.
Through the physical product and the virtual camp programme, children between the ages of eight and 11 will be taught about closing the loop of food waste, and are challenged to rethink their relationship with nature. Most importantly, they finish the course empowered with the knowledge and tools to change their daily habits—as well as teach you to do the same—to help the planet!
If you think this sounds like an amazing opportunity for your child, but are shivering at the thought of creepy crawlies possibly getting loose in your house, fear not! The insects used in the Hive Hero Academy are mealworms, which don’t fly, climb, or bite. The Hive Explorer itself is also designed to prevent accidents, smells, or insects escaping.
LivinFarms are organising a Hive Hero Academy camp over the Lunar New Year holidays, so take this opportunity for your kid to combine sustainability and STEM education, and learn how to save the world!