By Petter Myhre, Head of Product Marketing, Nordic Semiconductor
Without human intelligence and endeavor, the innovations driving economic growth would stall. That makes it vital that as the working population ages and engineers retire, new generations of digital pioneers fill the gap to create and evolve technology.
But how do we build a future workforce filled with exceptional coders, developers, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators? The process begins by arming as many children as possible with the knowledge, skills and experience they’ll need to drive tech forward by introducing young people to the world of hands-on ICT and computer science. And by teaching them the power of efficient communication, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.
Interactive and interdisciplinary science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (‘STEAM’) education holds the key to unlocking the innovative potential of the young.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) research shows jobs requiring STEAM skills are growing “much faster” than any other profession in the country—positions available in these fields are likely to increase by 17 percent between 2014 and 2024, compared to the national average of 5-8 percent across all job sectors. Yet a 2016 study by consultant McKinsey found 60 percent of employers across nine countries believed that new graduates were not adequately prepared for the world of work, citing gaps in technical skills and lack of STEAM subject degrees as a major factor alongside poor soft skills such as communication and teamwork. The McKinsey research indicated computer programming and IT jobs were among the hardest to fill.
In a December 2018 speech on technical education, then U.K. Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, stated: “In 2017, employers reported difficulties finding the right skills, qualifications or experience for 42 percent of skilled trades vacancies … our country needs more computer programmers, more engineers, more electricians. We need more technicians in fields from advanced manufacturing to healthcare, construction to telecommunications.”
To effectively build advanced STEAM education into everyday learning environments, and to ensure such learning is both dynamic and relevant, educators believe we must take advantage of innovative tools that engage the interests of children. The thinking is that when a strong connection is established between abstract ideas and real-world outcomes, students are far more likely to embrace the journey of discovery.
Tools supported by low power wireless technologies such as Bluetooth LE and cellular IoT are gaining traction with educators and experts driving STEAM-powered education.
One organization impressively committed to the cause is the Micro:bit Educational Foundation—the not-for-profit behind the Nordic SoC-powered micro:bit, a tiny yet powerful programmable pocket computer helping an estimated 20 million children and counting learn digital problem-solving skills. 4.5 million micro:bits are already in circulation, and the foundation recently gave away 5,000 more to help parents across the U.K. home-educate their children during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“It’s really important that children learn to create and solve problems using technology,” says Gareth Stockdale, CEO of the Foundation. “If we can provide the developers and engineers of the future the tools to follow their passion, then it’s a future we can look forward to.”
Micro:bit is not alone; other wireless tech-based educational devices and their connected smartphone apps are helping children around the world develop invaluable STEAM skills. For example, smart robots with built-in sensors are encouraging kids to take a genuine interest in coding, programming and development, while building practical skills and having fun in the process. Nordic-powered solutions including the Sphero RVR programmable and customizable robot, the Makeblock mTiny screen-free smart education robot platform, and the “Harry Potter” Kano Coding Kit, each offer their own unique STEAM education benefits. What they all have in common is smartphone interoperable Bluetooth LE connectivity enabling flexible, interactive, user-friendly wireless coding. The wireless functionality helps engage younger users and ensures the platforms are enjoyable as well as educational.
Smart robotics and coding platforms can help pave the way to universally improved STEAM education and skills for the next generation of professionals and experts, according to Jeff Wiencrot, Director of Firmware & Hardware at Sphero. “Educators are seeing the value of robotics, as students work in teams to creatively solve problems and demonstrate these solutions through the robot itself,” says Wiencrot. “More than any computer program, robots bring code to life and can help support themes and topics that are currently being taught in the classroom.”
Human participants might currently be keeping a safe distance from each other across the world, but more than ever the fields of education and technology are working side-by side, hand-in-hand. And if the focus is full STEAM ahead on education to meet the future needs of society, existing and emerging wireless educational solutions are bound to be part of the solution.