Focus on Stem is narrowing pupils’ world-view, warns former global teaching prize winner

The winner of a million-dollar international teaching prize has warned that too much emphasis on maths and science is narrowing pupils’ world-view and limiting their career options.

Nancie Atwell, who won the Global Teacher Prize last year, told the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai today she was worried that politicians in the UK and the US had started to over-emphasise the importance of Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects over the humanities.

“While science, math and technology certainly do matter a lot, they don’t matter the most,” she said.

“Emphasising Stem at the expense of the humanities is… a risky model. It narrows students’ world-view and their career options, by shrinking the curriculum and the potential for innovation.

“For years, business leaders have been saying that the skills acquired in a liberal arts education are exactly the ones they’re looking for.”

Ms Atwell, who teaches 11-to-13 year-olds in the US state of Maine, said that “trashing the humanities” had become a “popular pastime” for politicians.

“President Obama dissed art history majors, and former UK education secretary Charles Clarke declared medieval history ‘ornamental and a waste of public money,’” she said.

Ms Atwell said there was too much “alarm” about the prospect of future shortages of employees with Stem qualifications, because “no one can say if Stem shortages will exist by the time today’s students leave university.”

“Everyone’s children deserve a well rounded curriculum that invites them co connect knowledge across subject areas, uncover implications, take initiative and exercise their imaginations,” she said.

Ms Atwell criticised the “common core” curriculum in the US, which she said required 70 per cent of pupils’ reading to be non-fiction and only 30 per cent fiction in order to achieve “career readiness”.

She said her students read about 40 books per year, most of which were novels, and this had taught them about a wide range of issues including history, science and religion.

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