Should there be another E in STEM?

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Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (the STEM subjects) to school-aged children is an incredibly important activity if the goal is to generate a more creative and innovative future. Of course the arts are creative and innovative in their own right, but wealth generation that fuels an economy (and in many ways funds art so that it can be enjoyed) is likely to come about through the application of STEM.

And that is where the other E comes in. STEM subjects on their own cannot lead to revenue. It is business acumen that turns a technical invention or scientific discovery into a viable commercial product or service. This relies on a firm understanding of Enterprise, or indeed that of being an Entrepreneur.

With this in mind, I think we are doing students a disservice if we encourage them to think STEM, but don’t teach them about how to commercialise results. Not everyone wants to be a businessman or businesswoman (the Entrepreneur), but appreciating what’s involved and understanding routes to market (Enterprise) that others may follow will help them focus on the overall importance of STEM.

At a recent panel session on the subject of STEM skills held in Birmingham as part of the Festival of Science, the point was made that the term ‘knowledge economy’ is an outdated concept. What is needed instead is ‘clever makers or clever builders’. In other words it is not good enough to just think good ideas, but you have to implement them into something tangible, usable and hence valuable. I would add ‘clever exploiters’.  I don’t mean exploit in terms of abuse, I mean exploit in terms of capitalise. Yes, I know, another E.

Young Enterprise is an example of a school-based initiative that promotes business thinking in students. But my experience is that YE activities are largely done in isolation of the parallel, and equally good, work of the likes of STEMNet, CodeClub and their ambassadors. Part of the problem being of course that there are few people with experience from both sides of the fence to act as advisors or mentors.

So perhaps we should start promoting the other E in parallel with STEM. Let’s call it Encouraging Science, Technology, Engineering, Enterprise and Maths: ESTEEM. How’s that for creativity?

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder

P.S. Next Generation Innovators, part of the Malvern Festival of Innovation‘s schools outreach programme, will this year be encouraging students to think about innovation in both STEM and Enterprise.

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