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Think A-head: STEAM Education and Why Arts is Important in the Age of Technology

In major global markets, STEM education has recently evolved into STEAM education, as many educators around the world include the “A” for Arts.

Often when we think of Silicon Valley, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg, we immediately associate their success and innovations with STEM education (Science, Technology, Education, Math) without much thought to the potential influence of arts and humanities in shaping their vision and achievements.

And while STEM skills are indeed critical for advancement and innovation in the age of Siri and self-driving cars, arts is equally important. While science, technology, engineering, and math are key in creating new opportunities and technologies, which are helping to drive the global economy in what’s now being hailed the fourth industrial revolution; history also reminds us of the importance of artistry and craftsmanship.

Traditional education has always treated science and arts as two too different fields of study. And while it may be true to some extent,the two actually complement each other to help super charge innovation and creativity in many fields and industries including for example: software development, robotics, industrial design, and engineering. This is where STEAM education’s multidisciplinary approach comes into play.

Take Apple for example.

As of 2016, Apple has sold over one billion iPhones, capturing almost a fifth of the global market share, thanks to itsalmost cult following. IPhone fans credit their loyalty to the brand’s cutting-edgeinnovation paired with distinctive design and meticulous attention to detail.

It is clear that creativity plays a significant role in Apple’s success. And Steve Jobs once said:

"It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

Jobs, who also worked at Pixar, is a shining example of the types of sentiments shared by advocates of STEAM education.

The case for STEAM education

Given recent labor market forces, paired with poor educational outcomes, governments, and organizations across the globe have invested heavily in improving the delivery of STEM education. And while STEAM education is gaining traction, there are still many traditionalists who question the importance of adding “A’ for Arts. Hopefully, this kind of resistance will subside as policy makers and traditionalist educators realize STEAM education does not shortchange students’ learning and development of STEM skills. It does not mean a minute less studying STEM in school, but rather it is fundamentally about the marriage of the two to maximize intellectual development and learning outcomes.

Humanities teaches cognitive thinking and communication skills, improving one’s ability to process facts and establish well-informed opinions. The creative mind also fosters a more open and accepting environment, which promotes dialogue that leads to effective collaborations and individual success.

And for children with learning challenges, numerous studies have shown that the inclusion of Arts development in a multidisciplinary setting helps improve math and reading scores. Research at Mississippi State University for example, found that the integration of arts in the classroom reduced or eliminated achievement gaps, especially for economically disadvantaged students. As a result, it led to better outcomes on standardized tests. It also provides more opportunity for problem solving and innovation.

There is an obvious connection between arts and sciences, and this is often considered the secret sauce when many successful companies today bank on the power of an innovative technological idea merged with great artistry.

A comprehensive STEAM curriculum helps maximize both left (analytical thinking) and right (imaginative thinking) brain functions, and fosters the development of student’s imagination, enhancing their abilities to innovate, collaborate, and think outside the box. Furthermore, it helps cultivate the students’ ability to be flexible and adaptable, which are proven useful in today’s rapidly changing times.

Some of the best ideas are conceived where humanities and technology meet–where logic and imagination intertwine. Having a high STEM IQ is important, but adding the “A” for Arts is also key in unlocking the greatest potential for creativity, lateral thinking and innovation; skills that all children will benefit from in adapting to new job markets and new opportunities, and maybe even pioneer amazing new products and inventions thanks to a great STEAM education.

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