STEM OR STEAM: Should arts be a priority part of the education curriculum?

STEM OR STEAM: Should arts be a priority part of the education curriculum?

With its renewed emphasis on STEM to develop future UK talent, education has deprioritised the arts – but should it be given equal importance, to create STEAM? Two IoD members debate the topic…

Yes says Neil Constable, chief executive of Shakespeare’s Globe and member of IoD Central London

STEM OR STEAM: Should arts be a priority part of the education curriculum?Few question if STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects should be part of the core curriculum. So why marginalise the arts? Are subjects with proven benefits to the economy, society and the individual not essential?

Many schools supplement arts outside the curriculum, but those in challenging areas focus on subjects on which they will be assessed. Their students often have minimal access to arts. Globe Education works with 120,000 students a year, here and abroad. Feedback suggests they learn critical and creative thinking, oral and written skills, self-confidence, empathy and tolerance – skills employers say are lacking and vital in all careers from empathetic doctors to articulate lawyers.

Chinese students excel but China has a shortage of creative problem solvers. They plan to double the creative industries’ contribution to GDP within five years. The UK’s is worth £77bn annually; it’s growing three times faster than the wider economy. We are a world-leading, creative nation and culture is central to the government’s soft-power foreign policy.

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing,” said Steve Jobs. He knew that arts are vital, not optional. They must be at the heart of the curriculum, not an add-on for the privileged.

No says Matthew Aldridge, managing director of engineering firm Igus and a member of IoD Northamptonshire

STEM OR STEAM: Should arts be a priority part of the education curriculum?The shortage of young people with STEM skills is one of the greatest threats to the UK’s future productivity. A survey by EngineeringUK found nearly half of engineering firms reported delays in developing new products and services as a result of hard-to-fill vacancies. Each year, we are approximately 55,000 people short of the number of new engineers we need, which is why we campaign to encourage STEM skills.

A concerted effort by academic institutions, industry organisations and firms such as my own is focused on improving awareness of the exciting creative possibilities that exist in engineering and providing training and experience. For example, we run a Young Engineers Support (YES) programme. The STEM campaign must be allowed to continue making progress in these vital areas.

I am not here to diminish the arts in any way, but it could be damaging to the STEM campaign if its core focus were diluted. At my company, we are keenly aware of looming skills shortages already and, as we grow, the recruitment outlook could worsen if this is not addressed. Where we struggle most is in finding young engineers with the commercial acumen necessary to succeed in the modern age. Their work should be grounded in sound financial and commercial sense. So the only adjustment I’d like to see to STEM is the addition of ‘Business’. Is this the age of STEMB?

STEM OR STEAM: Should arts be a priority part of the education curriculum? Click here to email us with your views

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About author

Chris Maxwell

Chris Maxwell

Director’s editor spent nine years interviewing TV and film stars for Sky before joining the IoD in 2011 and turning the microphone on Britain’s business leaders. Since then he’s grilled everyone from Boris to Branson and, away from work, maintains an unhealthy obsession with lower league football.

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