STEAM mindset for wealth creation | Sunday Observer

STEAM mindset for wealth creation

5 January, 2020
Sri Lanka needs a complete transformation of the students’ mindset to adopt value creation
Sri Lanka needs a complete transformation of the students’ mindset to adopt value creation


Educating the future generations is one of the most noble professions in the world. Teachers are the drivers and carriers of education. In several developed countries teachers are required to have a high level of competence gained by learning, training with special skills and ingrained ethical guidelines.

Its framework is bounden by many parameters. The purpose of education was considered for a long time as producing a well-rounded citizen. It is valid to date and gained more purpose to emphasise the need towards creating value contribution to the economy.

Hence teachers must drive the students to develop skills apart from the textual knowledge to make sense of everything that he has learned. These skills produce a mindset to appreciate economic and social value by engaging in work that will benefit society. The student must gain the right attitudes to live with the culture of the society to be productive.

Value chain

There are several professional lines in education. Let me describe briefly the value chain of the teaching profession. It can take one from being an assistant to a teacher to become a principal and substantive positions covering several schools in the education ministry and the education department.

Bhutan just made teachers one of the highest paid skilled government servants in the same category as doctors. However, the teachers in Sri Lanka get paid less than the value they create in a government school giving free education to children.

This is perhaps compensated by their engagement in private teaching known as ‘tuition’ for an hourly rate. Some have become full time teachers in private ‘tutories’. Whether this is an ethical addition to the world of teachers is not the subject here but is an excellent topic for research.

Teachers are one of the most abundant resources in the Sri Lankan workspace but hard to find with the right competencies that would connect with the purpose I set out at the outset. Nevertheless, most of them try. Yet, training of teachers should take care of this extension of value to the profession.

Competencies are the requirements of a “competency-based” teacher education and include the knowledge, skills and values a teacher-trainee must demonstrate for successful completion of a teacher education programe. These competencies are attainable, accessible, observable, and measurable. A teacher’s primary responsibility is to develop skills in a student such as • Thinking and Problem-Solving, • Self Direction and Learning • Collaboration • Information and Research • Organization and Planning (Houstan, 1987)1.

In this respect there is a great responsibility for the teacher training colleges. There are eight Teacher Training Colleges and 19 National Colleges of Education. Together they produced 3,677 trained teachers in 2018. Some are just at entry level and the others are already in service. These training institutions must be the focal point in driving the transformation in education and training of teachers to build up competencies.

There were 241,591 in service in 2018. There were 129,638 trained teachers and 106,756 graduate teachers making up the large majority of 97.9% of the teachers in our school system. These teachers can either make or break the mindset of our children. It is very crucial that the graduate teachers are equally well trained as trained teachers in constructing the right mindset in students apart from the subject knowledge they have gained from education.

Sustained policy matters

India just announced a trillion-dollar strategic plan to drive their industry to add value to their economy. This is the third such plan since independence for industry development2. They have such national plans that transcend political changes in government to sustain the long-term national strategy.

Sri Lanka has not been so fortunate with political changes to sustain a national plan since national strategies have not withstood the vagaries of political change. A fact with China, which has now emerged as the second most industrially powerful nation in the world is their sustained policy on industrial development, education and research.

India and China have had their education and research policies to develop futuristic human capital and innovations to support the economic development as an integral part. We can also examine the other nations who have overtaken us in the region during the past seventy years and find the reason as their research and education as the foundation of development notwithstanding any other disturbances within their countries.

Value creation and mindset

Sri Lanka requires a complete transformation of the students’ mindset to adopt value creation. This is about economic value creation. First, they must understand the meaning of value since many of the services in Sri Lanka are provided as a free service and are now taken for granted as a right of citizens.

This has led to the loss of intrinsic economic value and the fact that the service provider, the government, must raise these monies from others who create wealth by taxes. The next thing is when they enter society how should their efforts be transformed from receiving free gifts to earning by creating wealth. How does one create wealth? This is the most valued question that teachers should provide answers, for the students to develop a transformative mindset. Creating wealth comes with an idea that is marketable which can be either a product or service. Since children leave school either to join the higher learning ladder or develop vocational skills or to work in an institution, the idea of wealth creation is about intrapreneurship. That means to be working with the knowledge that one is helping value addition within the institution.

Be it the university, vocational training institution or the paid workplace it is necessary to carry the thought that one must be contributing positively to value than negatively to bring down the value.

The other aspect of value creation is about having an integrated mindset. The integration is about the many subjects that are taught to students in different silos such as Science, Economics, History and Mathematics. Practically it is very rare that solutions to real life problems arise within these silos. The solutions to real life problems are found by bringing several disciplines together and by integrating them within the solution.

As such for a student to be able to see that they need to look outside the framework of the discipline and draw from other disciplines to have such an integrated activity is the right approach. This is the teachers’ responsibility to create such a mindset in a student.

STEM/STEAM approach

We now call this approach STEM and/or STEAM. The former is the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics approach and the latter is the Science, Technology, Engineering, Aesthetics and Mathematics approach. The latter brings arts into the scientific disciplines and gives the opportunity for students to develop an integrated mindset. Engineering though not taught in a school there are many opportunities during integration to do designs and illustrate solutions.

Technology is the science that finds the tools for solutions. E.g. An aluminum ladder is the technology solution to climb onto a roof, while the Mathematics would reveal its capacity for holding weight. Engineering would be the design for the robust structure wile Science would provide aluminum as a material. The students should be able to have these solutions arising in the mind instantly and/or be able to discover those through practice.

In a recent survey published on the internet referred to Finland as one of the top education systems. Much of what makes Finland’s education system stick out from other countries is the quality of its teachers. In Finland, all teachers are required to complete a rigorous five-year master’s program.

According to a Guardian report, the purpose of this lengthy program is to allow the aspiring teachers the freedom to design their own class structures. Private schools are exceedingly rare in Finland and class curricula focus less on long hours and tedious homework and more on creative playtime.

STEM/STEAM and education spend

Another aspect that has been highlighted recently is the education spend and how well each of those countries fare in internationally recognized test scores in STEM education3.

The US spends over $700 billion on public education annually, yet it lags most other industrialised countries in key measurements of academic success. Wide variety of curricula, teaching styles, and class structure of schools widely are practiced all around the world.

In 2017, the US spent $12,800 per student ($700 billion) on public education, which is the second-highest amount spent per student of any country in the world (Fig 3). But when it comes to total spending, the comparison isn’t remotely close. Pew Research from 2017 found the US ranked 38th in math and 24th in science when compared against 71 other countries. Only two decades prior, the U.S.’s education system ranked 6th internationally.

Analysing the data it becomes evident that as Math Rank improves the Science Rank too has improved. Fig 4 here illustrates this fact and the non-linear correlation is 66%. The point gained from this exercise here is that the integrated learning of Science and Maths is important for a mindset change as all these countries in the survey have been proven with their economic development indices. These countries are renowned for technology advancement and supply advanced technology for the world.

This report illustrates clearly the amount of money spent doesn’t elevate the standing of education and so would be the outcomes in the economy. The fig 3 illustrates the money spent by each of the fifteen of the top countries in the survey and the rankings attained. Japan has the highest standing with Science and Math Scores but spend far less than most other countries.

(Figure 4) The Sri Lankan teachers need that STEAM mindset to instill the same mindset in our students. In doing so the teachers can expound the value addition the students can add to the economy by being innovators, value adders, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs which they might become one day.

In conclusion the concept in this article is to develop an integrated mindset in students to find real life solutions for value addition using STEM / STEAM approach. This is a noble duty entrusted to school teachers in the 21st Century to take Sri Lanka on a steady track towards development.

The writer is a ‘Mindset Engineer’.

1. Olga Nessipbayeva - The competencies of the modern teacher.

2. First in 1956 and second in 1991 (Economic Time of India, PTI Nov 17, 2019 Initial draft industrial policy targets $1 tn gross value addition in manufacturing by 2015).

3. The US spends more on education than any other country, but students lag behind academically. Here’s how much other countries spend and how well their students perform. Mack De Geurin Aug 23, 2019. Business Insider Report.