“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” - Carl Sagan
In the United States, we hear constantly that we should be scientists and engineers. We should study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields because we will find good jobs, invent new things, and help the United States progress into the future. We know that STEM education is essential to understanding the world we live in.
So why would we expect STEM education to be any less important in developing countries?
As this article in SciDev.net argues, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education is critical to global development. Workers in STEM fields can build modern infrastructure, advance energy production, and innovate to overcome developing countries’ unique challenges.
|Putting back patient monitor with an intern.|
And, as this Huffington Post article points out, this is just as true for girls as for boys: “Keeping [girls] out of the educational loop -- for social, cultural, or economic reasons - - means that half the population can't contribute to their community's economic growth.” When a country provides access to quality education to all children, they unlock the potential of their entire population.
STEM education opens up a great variety of career options for young students regardless of where they live. For example, Engineering World Health trains biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) in the developing world. BMETs maintain and repair medical equipment in hospitals, making sure patients have access to quality health care. Our BMET students are adults, but to succeed they need a basic understanding of math and science in order to learn the special skills required to repair complex machines. When a hospital has well-educated technicians, they have more incubators to support newborn babies, more working anesthetic machines to perform surgeries, and more autoclaves to keep tools properly sterilized.
|Student Oung Kakeo verifying waveform.|
STEM education is necessary for all hospital careers: without it, BMETs, lab technicians, radiologists, nurses, and doctors could not exist. This is only one industry - imagine the impact across an entire society and economy if access to STEM education is severely limited or non-existent. How could such a society develop into an independent, self-sustaining modern nation?
Countries that invest in their children’s STEM education will have adults who understand the science and technology we depend on. They will use that understanding to improve themselves and their communities, develop new solutions to old problems, and empower change in the next generation.
|Dr. Ram Ramabhadran teaches Spec calibration in Honduras.|
Jessica Baker is the Development & Communications manager for Engineering World Health, a non-profit organization which inspires, educates, and empowers the biomedical engineering community to improve health care delivery in the developing world through STEM Education, Service Abroad, and Technician Training programs.