The question on whether state universities should change their focus from General Education (GE) to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) seems not to leave academic centers. General Education is a compulsory curriculum in most state universities. The aim of General Education in higher education institutions is to nurture a society that is all rounded. The students are prepared to face all kinds of obstacles that may come their way.
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On the other hand, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as the acronyms suggest is an integration of the four fields that are considered as a fundamental requirement of an advanced society. State universities should not change focus to STEM because General Education integrates students into the society, connects formal and informal education to general knowledge, and evokes broad critical thinking ability in students.
Should CSUEB change its philosophy/focus and become more of a Science Technology Engineering Mathematics university instead of a General Education centered school?
General education enables students to identify themselves as a part of society. Education prepares students to be better people in society and general education serves this purpose better than STEM. It imparts in students moral and cultural knowledge that is appreciated by the society they live in. General education plays a key role in shaping individuals as citizens bringing out fears, hopes that make everyone unique. General education enables students to understand and appreciate themselves as individuals, they are also able to identify themselves as citizens of the society that they live in. This is through the skills they acquire through teamwork and intercultural competence.
They can live in harmony within any cultural community and any part of the world. The students are also equipped with the morals of society. General education offers what is acceptable in society and what society needs from them. After going through GE, students can identify what is right in the society they are living in and stay away from societal evils. Through this, they can live in harmony with all types of people in all parts of the world. Through GE courses, students meet new people establishing new friendships some of which last a lifetime. It also enables the student to accept and appreciate diversity (Boyer 68).
General education provides connections between formal education and the informal and general knowledge that is acquired either in class or outside class. Education is not autonomous in itself and it calls for other aspects of life for it to be useful. General education offers the link between classwork and the real world where students can relate classwork with real-life circumstances. Although vocational training lays a foundation for one’s career, this knowledge is not directly applicable to the career world.
It requires other skills that are not part of the vocational training. Some of these skills include communication skills. For instance, a scientific researcher cannot convincingly defend a new theory if he/she lacks good communication skills. An Engineer from the USA cannot work efficiently in China if he/she lacks the basic knowledge of the Chinese language that he/she requires to communicate with his/her subordinate staff. In one way or the other, Sanders concurs that the STEM system will also require the integration of General Education to make it more effective and of benefit to society (21).
The critical element of why state universities should not change their focus to STEM is that GE provokes broad and critical thinking ability in students. It provides a broad and yet focused view of the world. The fundamental drive of education is to solve problems in society and these problems call for critical thinking. There are no protocols for solving problems; no, it calls for critical thinking, something that GE offers in good measures.
Apart from the specialized training on their career courses, state universities equip individuals with skills that enable them to face the challenges that come with this ever-changing world. Students can critically analyze circumstances even those outside their field of specialization. This is ensured by skills acquired such as critical thinking, creativity, inquiry, and discovery. No matter the nature of the problem involved, these skills enable individuals to compare situations and use past experiences to come up with solutions to diverse problems. The individuals are also equipped to become innovative and creative depending on the nature of the problem at hand.
Focus on STEM alone would deny individuals a very important tool that enables them to face circumstances as they present themselves. Vocational training may be of great importance in a person’s career success; however, it does not equip that person with the essential knowledge and skills required to handle circumstances outside his/her field of specialization. The provision of General Education in the initial stage of one’s period of study in higher education institutions enables many to choose the directions they want to take in the future.
It imparts a wide variety of knowledge that gives individuals a good foundation that is critical to their decision making about their future careers. Changing the focus to STEM would rob students of vital skills needed in life.
On the other hand, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers are the pillars especially in the economical development of any advanced society. The contemporary world is highly dependent on these four fields especially in economical well-being (Pearson and Young 19). Nevertheless, to focus on these fields alone would be counterproductive. For instance, having a computer geeks whom the only language they understand best is the programming language that leaves society empty.
Such a person faced with a family crisis would not think critically because he/she lacks the basic critical thinking offered by GE. Having people who can only think in one direction is a tragedy because unfortunately, life is not one-sided. Life has many sides and it calls for an all-rounded person to weather the storms of life. There is life outside science, mathematics, technology, and engineering; a life that demands more than protocols, laid down to solve particular problems. Therefore, in the light of these revelations, to focus on STEM is tantamount to converting students into one-sided robots who can only see life from one perspective.
In conclusion, changing the focus from General Education to STEM will be more of a problem than a solution. State universities should consider incorporating the two fields to come up with all-rounded students who can handle the realities of life effectively. In as much as STEM courses probably drive the economy; society will be shattered by shifting the focus from GE to STEM.
By propagating STEM in State universities, the society would turn into robots as described by Shteyngart in his masterpiece Super, Sad, True, Love Story; a society void of social aspects like communication skills and family unions among other critical societal norms (29). Therefore, state universities should not change focus from GE to STEM.
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Boyer, Ernest. College: The Undergraduate Experience in America. New Jersey: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1987.
Pearson, Greg. & Young, Thomas. Technically speaking: Why all Americans need to Know more about technology. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.
Sanders, Mark. “STEM, STEM Education, STEMmania.” The Technology Teacher 63.6 (2009): 20-23.
Shteyngart, Gary. Super, Sad, True, Love Story. New York: Random House, 2010.