STEAM: Why Adding an “A” to STEM is Important

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are the center of attention in most U.S. public schools today. The focus on STEM fields was initiated to improve global competitiveness, and the project does have its merits. However, with the nation’s push toward STEM, some say we may have pushed too far.

STEM isn’t meant to exclude other subjects, but that’s often what happens. Resources are already spread quite thin, and with increased expectations for STEM education, schools are forced to re-allocate funds from arts programs. This is unfortunate, because art education is known to improve academic performance.

The Problem with STEM

As noted in the latest STEM Index (U.S News and World Report), STEM programs still aren’t attracting and retaining enough female learners or students of color. The racial and gender gaps are actually widening for science and math. (Hmm… maybe they’re simply not interested?) Actually, STEM schools aren’t producing amazing results anyway.

According to Educational Leadership (December 2014/January 2015), comparisons of schools in Florida, North Carolina, New York, and Arizona found little evidence that students in STEM schools performed any better than those in regular schools. Thus, it would appear that the highly touted STEM initiatives are missing the target.

How could this be? While the STEM movement has filled student schedules with more math and science courses, they are disconnected from other areas of study. But in real life, every engineer who comes up with a new innovation uses far more than math, engineering, and technology. They also apply communication, writing, creativity and artistic skills to bring those innovations to fruition.

To make STEM truly work, we should include the arts.

The Benefits of STEAM

The arts (including liberal arts, fine arts, music, design-thinking, and language arts) are critical components to innovation. And yet the arts are often under-appreciated due to their outcomes being difficult to measure.

Nevertheless, many educators now propose adding an “A” to the STEM acronym. This initiative emphasizes the addition of art in STEM education, making the case for creativity across the disciplines. The idea is to incorporate artistic and design-related skills and thinking processes to STEM subjects.

There is much evidence in support of “STEAM, Not Just STEM Education,” according to the following infographic created by the University of Florida, which presents interesting facts and stats pointing out the significance of arts education.


Do you think the arts have a place in STEM education? Why or why not? Leave a comment!

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