Since the founding of the Nation, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been a source of inspirational discoveries and transformative technological advances, helping the United States develop the world’s most competitive economy and preserving peace through strength. The pace of innovation is accelerating globally, and with it the competition for scientific and technical talent. Now more than ever the innovation capacity of the United States—and its prosperity and security—depends on an effective and inclusive STEM education ecosystem. Individual success in the 21st century economy is also increasingly dependent on STEM literacy; simply to function as an informed consumer and citizen in a world of increasingly sophisticated technology requires the ability to use digital devices and STEM skills such as evidence-based reasoning.
The character of STEM education itself has been evolving from a set of overlapping disciplines into a more integrated and interdisciplinary approach to learning and skill development. This new approach includes the teaching of academic concepts through real-world applications and combines formal and informal learning in schools, the community, and the workplace. It seeks to impart skills such as critical thinking and problem solving along with soft skills such as cooperation and adaptability. Basic STEM concepts are best learned at an early age—in elementary and secondary school—because they are the essential prerequisites to career technical training, to advanced college-level and graduate study, and to increasing one’s technical skills in the workplace. Increasing the overall digital literacy of Americans and enhancing the STEM workforce will necessarily involve the entire U.S. STEM enterprise.