What is STEM?
In the STEM strategy, we take a broad view of what STEM is:
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. We include numeracy and digital skills within our definition of STEM. Both of these are vital to enable everyone to participate successfully in society as well as across all jobs, careers and occupations. STEM education and training seeks not only to develop expertise and capability in each individual field but also to develop the ability and skills to work across disciplines through interdisciplinary learning.
STEM education and training helps us develop the following skills and capabilities:
- Growing our understanding and appreciation of the natural and physical world and the broader universe around us
- Interpreting and analysing data and information
- Research and critical enquiry – to develop and test ideas
- Problem solving and risk assessment
- Experimentation, exploration and discovery of new knowledge, ideas and products
- Collaboration and working across fields and disciplines
- Creativity and innovation – to develop new products and approaches
All of these are increasingly important to success in a changing and technologically-driven world. They are also important for helping us to develop as active citizens, making informed decisions for ourselves and for society.
We recognise, in particular, the importance of creativity and innovation for economic growth and the strong synergies that exist between STEM and creativity.
The separate parts of STEM are:
- Science enables us to develop our interest in, and understanding of, the living, material and physical world and develop the skills of collaboration, research, critical enquiry, experimentation, exploration and discovery.
- Engineering is the method of applying scientific and mathematical knowledge to human activity and Technology is what is produced through the application of scientific knowledge to human activity. Together these cover a wide range of fields including business, computing science, chemicals, food, textiles, craft, design, engineering, graphics and applied technologies including those relating to construction, transport, the built environment, biomedical, microbiological and food technology.
- All of STEM is underpinned by Mathematics, which includes numeracy, and equips us with the skills we need to interpret and analyse information, simplify and solve problems, assess risk and make informed decisions. Mathematics and numeracy develop essential skills and capabilities for life, participation in society and in all jobs, careers and occupations. As well as providing the foundations for STEM, the study and application of mathematics is a vast and critical discipline in itself with far-reaching implications and value.
- Digital skills play a huge and growing role in society and the economy as well as enabling the other STEM disciplines. Like mathematics, digital skills and digital literacy in particular are essential for participation in society and across the labour market. Digital skills embrace a spectrum of skills in the use and creation of digital material, from basic digital literacy, through data handling and quantitative reasoning, problem solving and computational thinking, to the application of more specialist computing science knowledge and skills that are needed in data science, cyber security and coding. Within digital skills, as noted above, computing science is a separate discipline and subject.
It is often the interconnections between these separate parts that are important in life and in work.
This broad definition allows for different interpretations of data about STEM in education and training in what is, in practice, a complex set of inter-related disciplines and skills encompassing a very broad field of study. It is often more important to know about the differences that exist within STEM courses (for example, gender imbalances between courses) than it is to know what the total ‘amount’ of STEM is. There are different options for defining STEM, dependent on the aspect under consideration i.e. education, the level of education or training, industry (businesses) or occupation (jobs).
For the purposes of reporting progress with the Strategy we have chosen to define STEM in different, but related, ways across the different sectors. Full details are available in our definitions paper, published separately on the Scottish Government website.
Email: Frank Creamer