To what extent does skill development matter for youth and their futures? What else do they need to follow their dreams in education?
In a past blog entry, I used the capabilities approach as a framework to understand the various conditions that may influence whether or not a youth may translate his or her STEM knowledge into a STEM career. I offered that scenario as an example, but this doesn't mean we expect all youth in STEM clubs to pursue STEM professions. If we measured the effectiveness of STEM programs by the number of engineers we produced, we'd be painting an incomplete picture.
When I talk about capabilities, I'm referring to the freedom young people have to make choices to achieve their goals and accomplish something that's important to them. I think it's more important for them to be able to address and overcome obstacles than it is to learn marketable job skills. This is particularly so for youth who face additional constraints on their freedom on account of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, etc.
Research shows that there are various constraints that keep young people from being able to choose a positive educational trajectory:
Material and physical constraints
Adequate food, access to
public transportation, a quiet place to study at home
Norms about gender and racial equality, lack of support, language barriers
STEM skills are important academically, but are they truly the primary goal of non-formal STEM programs? I would argue that they are not. For instance, in this case of the Urban 4-H STEM program design, the practice of goal-setting and reflection may or may not lead youth to become engineers. More importantly, it promotes them to reflection and awareness of their capabilities.
My colleague Kate Walker wrote about the importance of developing social and emotional skills, which I believe play a critical role in developing youth capabilities. For example, a youth learning to effectively handle emotions that arise in her STEM projects may help her handle emotions at home. This might be just the skill she needs to be happier in a non-academic context and in present time. It might also free her to pursue opportunities in sports, the arts, or yes, STEM. The capabilities approach allows young people to be full participants in the improvement of their current social life, while also allowing them to aspire to achieve future valued outcomes.
What do you think? To what extent might non-formal STEM education programs create conditions that influence youth's freedoms to choose to follow their dreams? Do they need skills to succeed?
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