Isn't it time we put the Arts into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics?

By Jamie Hill - 13 February 2019

College & Higher EducationEducationSecondaryOpinion and Features

Creation is a funny old business … or is it?

Think of an inventor and you might think of a scientist knocking test tubes together, testing, trialling and studying on the shoulders of giants until they come up with something new.

  • Robot from trash, STEAM activity for students, Plastic box with paper strips, DC motor and two AA batteries, colored tapes. Tinkering and making, educational activities for schools and children

    Robot from trash, STEAM activity for students, Plastic box with paper strips, DC motor and two AA batteries, colored tapes. Tinkering and making, educational activities for schools and children

By its very nature science is something that can usually be proven. Something that is meticulous. Something based on facts and figures.

But without imagination a lot of inventions would never have been.. well.. invented.

By its very nature, creativity can be chaotic, unproven, risky and not based on existing data…. or is it? 

It takes a marriage of creativity and scientific thought to make the real magic happen. As without one there wouldn’t be the other.

A number of years ago, a big push in educational quarters to push STEM began - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, in large part, to address an identified future skills gap.

The acronym came into common use shortly after an interagency meeting on science education held at the US National Science Foundation in the late nineties. It was with this in mind that Governments including the UK decided to pour resources into the four disciplines to help build a better educational foundation for future generations. 
But there is a growing thought that the original, very worthy, ideals that STEM pushed were missing one of the vital ingredients – the arts 

And this is where Stem to Steam comes in. This is a call to add the ‘A’ into the mix and the ‘A’ is for the Arts.
The current acronym is STEAM.

Originally championed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) it is now being widely refered to by institutions, corporations and individuals.

The idea is that innovation needs to have an injection of human creativity to really make it sing. True invention can’t just come from equations.

One of the main challenges that this movement has is to widen understanding to ensure that the Arts are included within the STEM mix, alongside the original four disciplines.

For some politicians STEM is a no-brainer. It is measurable by its very nature. This means that some STEM to STEAM campaigners have their work cut out. Especially with Government bodies being committed to protecting the core STEM subjects with no such allowance for those namby pamby immeasurable arts.

But as a society we can’t forget the ‘arts’. It contributes to  what makes us human. Meaningful innovation is all the more powerful when the arts are included in the mix.  

On a local level in the Swindon area there is a momentum building to add the ‘A’ into STEAM to try and address the balance too.

One of the people leading a call for the inclusion of the Arts is Creative Catalyst, Advisor & Art Partner Carole Bent.  
Her first step after asking the question “How do we turn STEM to STEAM?“ was to ask others to add their names in support of further exploration. 

Over 100 people did this almost immediately, including across multiple sectors including the Arts, Education, Aerospace , business & Politics. 

Next steps include meetings with organisations & individuals on a local and national level, including an invitation to undertake a Research Seminar at Cambridge University. 

In Carole’s view, the value of creativity in its broadest sense should not be underestimated. At a time of increased uncertainty and robotisation, the more that we welcome new ideas and creative collaborations - the better.

She said: "My motivation to help move this debate forward is largely driven by a strong belief in the strategic value of creativity and in the strength of expanding horizons and collaborations - in preference to narrow silos.

"This comes from direct experience of commissioning creativity at scale within large organisations and experience of responses to exhibitions set within unconventional contexts … and to unexpected works within conventional settings."

The Arts are life affirming in so many ways…. including in building competitive advantage, resilience, well being and as a key factor in innovation. 

The initial concept of STEM and the progress that it has made so far is laudable, as is the idea of supporting it to develop further … to include a very important A. 

The more humanity and life affirming  creativity in our lives, the better.. so here’s to Steam emerging from STEM. And let's hope that this is a movement that doesn't run out of... urm... steam.

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