The issue of student participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education needs to be addressed, and it is important that it be in the early years of a child's educational development. There must be a strategic move to attract youngsters as early as elementary and middle school in the areas of science, math, technology and engineering.
As a nation, we can see that the technological advances taking place in our own social structure are calling for a more sophisticated education for our high school students. Any delay in preparation already puts them further behind at the college level. This is what "left behind" should be and is addressing.
There is a realization that even within the best educational environment, the daily school activities are not enough. The learning experience needs to extend beyond the normal school day. The percentage of time spent inside the classroom is proving to be less than adequate, and a more intensive learning opportunity would provide a more complete result.
This by no means is an attack on the educational structure within our schools today. It simply indicates that more is required. A surge in our after school and summer programming aimed specifically at STEM education is needed. Stimulating young people's interest in this area is a definite step in the right direction.
Programs set up specifically for the purpose of introducing youngsters to the world of STEM training are showing significant progress. Young people are gradually becoming more excited about these subjects, and that is translated over into their overall academic achievement.
Performance levels are showing a marked improvement across all areas of academic achievement. Another aspect of this type of after school and summer programs is the learning opportunities they provide that take into account the many different types of learning styles.
Unlike the traditional classroom setting, students are exposed to a more hands-on approach to learning. More time is devoted to the thorough understanding of the subject. It also opens the door to allow more girls to engage in developing a strong background in STEM education.
This has become such an important idea that it is supported by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Initiative, a federally funded plan that offers financial provision for programs that offer STEM development. This is the only federally funded program; however, there are other sources that provide funds for STEM groups. They see the value in helping to advance this type of development.
There are also a number of school districts that are combining the funding they receive from foundations with the initiative's program to the ensure access to high-level programs. The government recognizes that our future success depends on how well we prepare our workforce today.
The global competitiveness on the horizon is challenging, and it demands an answer if we are to continue to dominate as a global leader. Students of today who will be the workforce of tomorrow must be ready to meet the challenges. It is no longer an option; it has become a mandate.
How we develop the minds of our youth will determine how well those students leaving the universities and colleges of our nation are prepared to take the reins. Every educator, every politician and every businessperson have invested stakes in how the next generation fares in the global economy.
If we do not make the effort now to establish strong, competitive and highly-trained STEM leaders, the outcome will leave the next generation as second-rate compared to other advancing nations. This is not what our nation wants, and it is not what is in our best interest.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is in full support of any organization that understands this and is setting up programs to get the youth of this nation to a level that will enable them to manage, lead and take over the research centers and laboratories in the future. They have initiated a plan called "Summer Learning Opportunities" that has identified three key aspects as their goals to support innovation and a high degree of competitiveness in this country.
The first aspect is to strengthen the workforce that will take over in the future. This includes developing and implementing a number of educational strategies that will reach every student level. The plan will also reach out to educational communities that have traditionally been left untouched.
Once they have attracted prospective candidates, they will provide the necessary encouragement and assistance to help them maintain their focus and seek higher levels of training. Thirdly, NASA will reach out to the STEM learning providers. They will do this by providing activities to the educators, students, families, agencies and the general population.
These activities will be hands on, and they will provide an interactive environment designed to increase the awareness of the country to the importance of becoming more scientific and technologically literate. This is an across the board plan to bring all Americans to a better understanding of STEM literacy and the impact it has now and will have in the future.