It was a day of July 2012. One of the authors (Binod) was participating in the International Conference on Mathematics Education (ICME-13) in South Korea. During the introductions, a senior professor from Australia asked, “What do you teach?” Binod proudly responded, “I teach Mathematics in Nepal.” The professor said, “Stop teaching Mathematics! Teach Children.” Both of them had a laugh. This conversation created humor at that time, but the moment became memorable.
The professor’s remark was satirical but very powerful. It led to a question: What is our focus in school education – “subjects” or “students”? It seems that the majority of school teachers still take different subjects (such as Mathematics, Science, Computer, Nepali) as completely separate entities. We forget that these subjects are preparing children to tackle daily life problems and develop the foundations for higher studies. For this, the children have to be at the centre, and the different subjects considered to be ways of achieving the goals of education. It means subjects are “means” and children are “ends”.
One of the problems of school education in Nepal is an overemphasis on the content that is presented as segregated from other subjects. The connections among different subjects and within the content are not uncovered and recognized. Such practices can not promote a holistic way of knowing by integrating more than one concept from different disciplines in a critical and creative manner. To address such problems in school education, STEAM Education is gaining popularity around the globe.
STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, is an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to learning that encourages students to think broadly and critically about real-world problems. In this approach, real-world problems are solved by incorporating the scientific, mathematical, engineering and technological knowledge in a creative (i.e. arts) way. It does not mean that every problem needs all these dimensions to address it, but it normally does require more than one area to find the best solution. For this, our traditional “subject-centric” approach of teaching and learning is not helpful.
The idea of STEAM education was proposed to promote productive engagement among learners in issues and problems associated with science, mathematics and related curricular areas. Given this context, we have delineated the following key points as the features of STEAM Education:
Integrated Education: STEAM education puts primacy on integrated curriculums to use knowledge and skills in creative and imaginative (i.e. artistic) ways. The ‘A’ in STEAM education is helpful for us to address the otherwise unaccounted approach to integration. For example, arts-based methods (painting, building models) help teachers and students to connect various disciplinary skills in science and mathematics.
Productive Pedagogy: An important feature of STEAM education is to practice the idea that school is a place for production or creation. This helps to replace the conventional chalk-and-talk pedagogy through a series of carefully designed classes in which students explore, analyse, evaluate and create something out of their engagement in a learning process. By enabling learners to create something, we can increase the engagement of learners in the educational processes.
Transversal Skills: The purpose of educational processes is to help students become fully human. Disciplinary knowledge and skills may be necessary, but they are insufficient. Over the period of time, every student should develop a broad range of skills that are needed for different occupations and sectors including core skills, basic skills and soft skills. For that, STEAM education provides a rich environment for students.
STEAM education also engages students in Transformative Learning. There are various ways of knowing. STEAM education promotes the interconnected ways of knowing such as cultural self-knowing, relational knowing, critical knowing, visionary and ethical knowing, knowing in action. Keeping the notion of STEAM related skills (science process skills, manipulative skills, computational thinking skills, reasoning skills, engineering design thinking skills and ICT skills) at the centre, courses should be designed in the school level. For this, inquiry-based approach, project-based learning and digital learning should be implemented. An inquiry-based approach promotes STEAM disciplines to enable students to engage in authentic and meaningful activities that helps to improve reasoning skills. Project-based learning enables students to develop 21st century competencies including resilience, coping with uncertainty, self-reliance, and creativity by interacting with real-world activities. Digital learning incorporates modern learning environments that enable students to develop their technological literacy and critical thinking skills throughout their daily learning activities. To envisage better teaching and learning approaches as pedagogical innovations and to transform the existing teaching and learning practices, STEAM education is a must.
Binod Prasad Pant is the Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Kathmandu University School of Education. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Bal Chandra Luitel is the Associate Dean at Kathmandu University School of Education. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.