Game Developer's Conference is one of the world's largest gatherings of game developers, publishers, hardware manufactures, and people involved in all facets of the gaming industry. While it's easy to see why the gaming industry needs a constant stream of graduates well-versed in STEM subjects, the focus behind the panel is not only the gaming industry, but the entirety of the American economy spread across all sectors.
Women in Games International, or WIGI, is a group of gaming industry professionals who push toward the inclusion and advancement of women in the gaming industry. The issue of STEM education and its necessity in the U.S. is not only related to women, however. On both sides of the gender coin, the American education system often shortchanges students, and by doing so shortchanges the economy's future.
In the late 1990's, approximately 30 percent of top performing U.S. high school students majored in STEM subjects in college, a percentage that had been consistent for over 30 years. In the first five years of this century, however, the number dropped by nearly half, to less than 15 percent. The U.S. ranked 31st worldwide in math and 23rd in science in a 2009 study, falling well-behind numerous nations in Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world. After consistently being respected as the world leader in scientific, mathematical and technological developments for decades, America has fallen behind.
Getting America's youth interested in STEM fields is necessary to ensure an employable workforce and a stable economy in the decades to come. In a time when available manufacturing jobs have been reduced to a shadow of their former number and millions of Americans are out of work, hundreds of thousands of STEM-related jobs are left without capable workers.
How can we take steps to improve the education and life of our young people? What might the WIGI panel discuss during GDC? Some probable topics have been mentioned many times before.
EducationOne of the first steps towards enabling students to move into STEM fields is making sure their early education in these subjects is undertaken by capable, educated, and passionate teachers. In a 2000 survey, over half of American high school students were taught by teachers who had not majored in and had no certification in various STEM subjects, such as chemistry, physics, and earth and space science. While all teachers do a great service, students will always be better served by an education from teachers who know their subjects well and teach from a place of deep knowledge and interest.
In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of the need for teachers in STEM fields, saying, "We want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. In fact, to every young person listening tonight who's contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher. Your country needs you." The president's administration has also launched other programs, such as Educate to Innovate, which provides over $260 million to put American youth back to the top of science and math competencies.
PerceptionTo many students, jobs in STEM fields don't seem glamorous or exciting. Part of this solution also lies with improving our teachers; students need real-life role models who are making an active difference by being excited about their subjects. At the same time, a change in American society could also play a large role in shifting perceptions. Showing that scientists and engineers are making life better for everyone can go a long way toward enticing students to enter these fields.
The Gender GapWhile the issue at the heart of the panel is getting young people into STEM fields, both female and male, the gender difference in STEM disciplines is a problem. The number of people in these careers could be driven up significantly by bringing women into equilibrium with men. According to a 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce brief, women account for 48 percent of the American workforce, but only 24 percent of STEM jobs. What can be done to encourage more women into these fields? The highlighting of female role models in the engineering, technology, and science fields can interest more young women to investigate STEM subjects, while at the same time helping with the previously mentioned perception problem. As it relates to education, more female teachers in these subjects could help break down gender stereotyping that often discourages girls from becoming interested in what are considered traditionally male subjects. Getting more young women interested in STEM subjects will increase the overall number of young people in these disciplines. Addressing and closing this gender gap is one of the primary goals of WIGI, and will likely be an issue highlighted during the panel.
STEM education is an issue at the heart of America's economy in many sectors, not just the gaming industry. By bringing this issue into the spotlight and raising awareness, it will enter the forefront of the national consciousness. Panels and discussions like these demonstrate that groups of people are working to ensure that American children receive an education which will serve them well for their entire lives.