Unlocking Europe’s potential via STEM education

When economists or labor market forecasters speculate about the future of work in Europe, it’s clear that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills will play a major role. An increasing number of jobs – many of which haven’t even been invented yet – will come to depend on STEM skills, and such careers are among the fastest growing worldwide. Technology-related professions in particular look set to skyrocket, with computer programming jobs growing twice the average rate for overall job growth. It’s fair to say that the dissemination of STEM skills will directly impact Europe’s future economic prosperity.

Unfortunately, there is a significant deficit in the availability of such skills in today’s job market. Forty percent of employers struggle to find the right skills to fill vacant positions. Students are turning their back on pursuing STEM studies or careers, often perceiving them to be too difficult, too dull or “not for them”.

The prevalent state of how STEM subjects are taught and learned is part of the problem. Traditional stand-and-deliver teaching methods are often too dry or abstract, lacking hands-on, problem-based or collaborative approaches. Such pedagogical models can severely hinder students’ motivation to stay curious about a possible future in STEM. The challenge is particularly acute when it comes to reaching girls, who are often held back by stereotypes, a lack of female role-models, gender-biased educational materials, or outdated career advice. All of these issues need to be tackled head-on if we are to foster the next generation of female STEM leaders.

In recent years we’ve seen a concerted effort on the part of European and national policy and business leaders to shake things up. The introduction of a New Skills Agenda for Europe and the upcoming launch of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition demonstrate concrete and common commitments on behalf of policymakers, educators and industry representatives to equipping Europe’s youth with the skills to succeed in tomorrow’s workplaces.

But there is still work to be done, particularly around support for educators and schools seeking to improve their skills offering. Technology can play a vital role here. Microsoft is leading efforts with national Ministries of Education, teachers and students to tackle challenges in STEM education and boost student interest in STEM-related careers.

To this end, and thanks to our long-term partnership with Ministries of Education via the STEM Alliance, we have today published a white paper on the use of ICT (Information & Communications Technologies) to support STEM teaching and learning. Findings demonstrate how technology can create tailored, engaging and collaborative learning experiences for STEM, and highlights specific Microsoft programs and technologies that can help.

Many Ministries, regions and school districts are planning large-scale device deployments in their classrooms. Through the latest innovations, Microsoft strives to ensure that Windows devices for schools offer a mobile-first STEM learning experience by facilitating mobile STEM experiments using tools like Lab4U and by ensuring compatibility with the widest range of STEM peripherals like data loggers and sensors.

We also recognize that STEM teachers are key to unlocking innovative and engaging STEM learning experiences for students. Ensuring teachers can upgrade their skills through professional learning opportunities is a key focus of Microsoft’s Educator Community (MEC). Through Skype in the Classroom, STEM teachers can connect their classes to world-class experts and organize fascinating virtual field trips focusing on topics like marine biology, renewable energy and space science, while Minecraft: Education Edition introduces the learning value of games-based learning to classrooms and helps unleash students’ creativity around even the most academic of subjects.

As the need for ICT skills in the workplace grows, so does the need for formal, industry-recognized certification. Both teachers and students can access valuable upskilling resources through programs such as Imagine Academy – something Microsoft has made available nationwide in the Netherlands, for instance – to help students attain globally recognized industry certification and training in key ICT skills.

Our initiatives are just one part of the puzzle. We believe it will take a concerted, coordinated and ongoing effort from policymakers, educators, students and industry to bridge the STEM skills gap and Microsoft is prepared to help lead that collaboration via the right partnerships and with the right tools, we are committed to help foster the STEM leaders of tomorrow, and ensure all Europeans face a brighter economic future.