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Commentary: What’s Missing from STEM

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The old rock song goes “don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology.” Unfortunately, that is also a good description of most high school curricula. With science and technology playing an ever larger role in our everyday lives to say nothing of our careers, a large percentage of teachers say they are not teaching Agri-Science. A recent survey sponsored by Bayer and the National 4-H Council revealed that 80% of high school science teachers believe agri-science is important, but only 22% teach it.

“Food security, reliable access to safe and affordable food, is one of the most significant challenges of our time,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of National 4-H Council. “Science matters now more than ever. We need to create educational opportunities that inspire a new generation of leaders willing to tackle this challenge.” Not only is exposure to agri-science important from a career standpoint, but some basic knowledge is needed just to be a food consumer today. Making an informed decision on GMO food and antibiotics requires a basic knowledge of biology, genetics, and food production. For the most part, the next generation of consumers is not getting this kind of information in school but rather on social media.

Bayer and National 4-H Council also conducted a survey of more than 1,000 parents of high school students. The survey found that 86% of parents agree it is important for the country’s future success to encourage pursuit of careers in the agricultural industries, and 68% said the industry provides exciting career opportunities. However, nearly 70% of respondents do not believe their children will pursue a career in agri-science, even though data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows tens of thousands of jobs each year in agriculture go unfilled by qualified candidates.

“When it comes to STEM education, studies have consistently shown our nation’s youth frequently do not get the exposure to or experiences required to be successful nor are our expectations for them high enough,” said Dr. Mae Jemison, Chief Ambassador for Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense initiative. “If we are to meet the challenges facing humanity’s future on this planet, such as meeting the nutrition and health needs of an ever-growing population, we need new generations of STEM-literate leaders seeking creative and innovative solutions.” The goal of the Science Makes Sense program is to equip at least 25,000 students in urban, suburban, and rural areas alike with the tools and support they need to deepen their understanding of science.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is a real buzz word in education today. Yet, far too often agriculture gets left out of the curriculum. Purdue University President Mitch Daniels has suggested STEM be turned to STEAM, by adding agriculture to the mix. As the Bayer research points out, this seldom happens. By shortchanging our students on the agri- and bio-sciences, we not only deny them some great career opportunities, we send them into a future — where agri-science will play a major role — ignorant of some basic facts.

By Gary Truitt