The development of the global economy and the transition to knowledge economies has strengthened the significance of education. Preparing students, through education as a means of social investment, is critical to advancement in the global economy. Specifically, the cultivation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) competencies is imperative in the development of the knowledge and skills of the workforce for the global economy.
Knowledge economies are rooted in science and technology, interdependent globally, and driven by innovation . Furthermore, a vibrant and innovative economy relies heavily on the knowledge and skills of the workforce. In the workforce, benefits of STEM education are applicable in both non-STEM and STEM disciplines. An adept workforce is connected to economic growth and development, national security and innovation, and competitiveness in the global market. The global labor market demands skills, knowledge, and the ability to innovate. Education is critical to the development of skills. It is vital to equip students around the world with the skills necessary to thrive in the global economy.
Regardless of sector, one must deal with change, complexity, and potential constraints. We must be adaptive; so, too, must our systems of education. Nations must address the need for revision in models of education to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving knowledge economy, including empowering students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills, habits, and dispositions include creativity, collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, communication, computing, and lifelong learning. Therefore, in the knowledge economy, systems of education must consider the adoption of a revised pedagogical model focused on “learning by doing” and complex thinking. And yet, many education systems remain unchanged today- continuing to educate for the past industrial age.
Our learning environments must be defined by discovery and application, both in content and in context. Learning should be boundless- an endless journey of understanding. For example, activity-project-problem-based instructional design (APB) empowers students to understand how the knowledge and skills developed can be applied both in the classroom and in everyday life- making learning relevant. This approach scaffolds learning through activities and projects and then provides students with the opportunity to work collaboratively to apply their skills to solve a problem. The great news – there are programs, like Project Lead The Way, where students are engaged in hands-on, activity-project – and problem-based learning opportunities, as early as kindergarten. In such learning environments, students develop competencies and confidence. Such a classroom is rooted in APB instructional design and focuses on the utilization of a design process enabling students to complete projects and solve real-world problems – building upon the depth and complexity of learning. For example, students at Gulliver Schools in Miami, Florida, enrolled in Project Lead The Way Engineering and Biomedical Science courses developed and delivered a humanitarian project – a portable water purification system – to a children’s hospital in Haiti. Students were inspired to help following the hurricanes that devastated the country in previous years. These high school students, who had a learning environment defined by discovery and application, received the Heart of Haiti Award for Humanitarian Invention. There are numerous examples of students, enrolled in Project Lead The Way programs, who have been empowered to solve real-world challenges and, in turn, contribute to progress both locally and globally.
This type of learning environment, rooted in discovery and application, empowers students to ask questions, make observations, gather information, and design, develop, and test a solution. It cultivates transportable skills that are applicable to all disciplines, moving beyond the confines of the STEM acronym. In classrooms like Project Lead The Way, discovery and application are the cornerstones of learning. In order for an educational environment to be transformative, students must progress through uncertainty, questioning, exploration, discovery, application, and, in turn, learning. In this environment, students are empowered to explore real-world challenges and, in turn, contribute to global progress through innovation and action.
A strong education prepares people with the appropriate skills to quickly learn new tasks and adjust to new jobs in the evolving globalization process. Our learning environments must support and reflect our rapidly advancing global knowledge economy; they must continuously evolve. It is what our students deserve. Imagine a learning environment where students are guided by knowledge and its application – a learning environment where students can see the complexity and beauty in the world. They can ask critical questions in pursuit of understanding what is before them. In such learning environments, our children see the world today and aspire to utilize knowledge and skills to improve it. Hands-on, real world learning, at any level of education enables learning to be applied, thus, employing scholarship as valuable and relevant. Ultimately, this approach to education brings the world to learning and, in turn, learning to the world.
 Stewart, (2012)
 Oxford Economics, (2009)
 Williams, (2015)
 Trilling & Hood, (1999)
 World Bank, (2002)
 Bloom, (2004)
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Trilling, B., & Hood, P. (1999). Learning, technology, and education reform in the Knowledge Age or “We’re Wired, Webbed, and Windowed, Now What?” Educational Technology, 39(3), 5–18.
Williams, D. (2015). Leadership for a Fractured World: How to Cross Boundaries, Build Bridges, and Lead Change. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
World Bank. (2002). Constructing knowledge societies: New challenges for tertiary education. Washington D.C: World Bank.