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STEM could be salvation of Guam education, economy

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STEM education could be the solution to Guam’s current education woes and the key to the island’s future economic progress, Margaret Ashida, executive director of STEMx and a speaker at yesterday’s Island Sustainability Conference, said in an interview with Variety.

According to Ashida, Guam already has the necessary parts that could spur the development of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – education.

Potential economic growth from STEM industries, alongside job shifts, and lagging scores in standardized tests have all contributed to the growing interest in STEM education, Ashida said.

Ashida was a plenary speaker during the first day of the Island Sustainability Conference. Her presentation focused on the "STEMx Solution: Local Innovation, State Leadership, and National Impact."

STEMx, which is managed by independent research and development organization Battelle, is a nationwide network of state STEM organizations working together to transform the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at the grassroots level.

"I think we get to some tipping point ever so often. I know that we have been championing what is now called STEM for years. The growing interest now comes from a couple of reasons. One is looking at the economy of the United States, such as the loss of jobs, but there’s also the realization that some of the growth is coming from STEM industries," Ashida said.

Opportunities

Business and economic opportunities, she added, come from solving the important challenges in health care, energy, research, and education – just some of the sectors which are associated with STEM.

Ashida said the U.S. is also falling behind in their standardized test scores compared to other countries.

"Standardized tests don't tell you everything since most of them measure memorization rather than mastery. Nevertheless, it is an indicator that we are falling behind," she said.

Moreover, in the education side, Ashida said there are indicators that the "pipeline is leaking," with the system not educating enough students who are prepared for jobs needed by STEM- related industries.

In her presentation, Ashida also mentioned federal policies that enable STEM programs in the U.S. In particular, she said STEM spending would increase by 6.7 percent, to $1 billion, with the new budget introduced by President Barack Obama, while a number of STEM education programs are being consolidated and reorganized to support new programs at the USDOE, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian.

Community

Ashida also touched on the importance of community mobilization, stating, "The STEMx network illustrates the theory of action that one size doesn't fit all. There are a variety of models of state STEM organizations, each aligned to the will and capacity of its communities."

"This is my first visit to Guam. When UOG invited me to participate in this conference, I saw it as a wonderful opportunity for me to learn, listen, meet people, and understand what their current situation is – the reality, dreams, and challenges on Guam," she added.

Hopefully, Ashida said, the conversation would continue and a framework or approach will be developed that can help the system of education on Guam go to the next level.

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