FIRST President Don Bossi has previously discussed the FIRST program and its importance to Design World, but expanded onto education in general and the importance of math and science in American schools.
“When it comes to math, science and other STEM topics, I wouldn’t say that the education system is exactly doing what we’re hoping it’s doing,” said Bossi. “I think it was the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores where, once again, the United States ranks in the lower half of the 34 countries they survey for math and science.”
Knowing how to apply their learning, said Bossi, is where the United States tends to fall behind. Because of that, students become disinterested or unmotivated to learn the exciting applications of those subjects.
“I don’t think the system has evolved in the way it needs to in going from what was the Industrial Revolution to what’s now the Information Revolution,” said Bossi.
Hands-on experiences, or “project-based learning,” as Bossi calls it, are a possible solution to this disconnect. This way, children can come face-to-face with challenges that many real-world designers and engineers face, and see how what they learn comes to life.
“One reason that’s very relevant is, if you think about most companies, rarely are you solving a problem that someone hasn’t already solved and the answer’s all written down,” said Bossi. “New products introduction, even solving manufacturing or supply chain problems—if it was easy as looking it up on page 32 of a book, anybody could do that, but that’s now what the real world is like.”
But programs such as STEM schools aren’t necessarily the complete answer. While STEM schools catch the interest of those who already know about the field, said Bossi, those who aren’t knowledgeable about the field are left out.
“Our goal would be to try to think of, ‘Well, how do you make every school a STEM school?’,” said Bossi. “Really, we’d like to see a future where every school offers great STEM learning opportunities to all kids, and is not just accessible by the few that know from an early age or the privileged ones.”
“Privileged ones,” or those who dominate the industry, create a less diverse environment, said Bossi, and therefore a less chance of younger people becoming interested.
“A lot of the tech companies are dominated by white or Asian males, and a lot of corporations are interested in how to get a more diverse work force into STEM so they bring their perspective,” said Bossi. “It’s not about going into a sub-set, but trying to reach out and appeal to as broad an audience as possible.”
Recognizing the need for diversity, as well as the need to apply your knowledge, is the key to successful education, said Bossi. By acknowledging those two concepts, as well as creating inventive hands-on projects, more children will become more aware and interested in the field.
“If you get kids excited, if you make it fun, if you make it engaging, they’re going to naturally be open to learning,” said Bossi. “When you got their hearts and their passion, then you help take the other barriers out of their way.”