6.2 The Fourth Industrial Revolution and STEM ​

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0 or i4.0), where technology and industry undergo rapid change. Yet, our education and training systems are not geared to develop skill sets, particularly in information based and technological environments, that will satisfy the market demands that would be called for. To make a workforce Industry 4.0-ready they need strong Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills. Therefore, we need to develop STEM capabilities the future needs by aligning educational curricula with industry relevant skills.

For modern society STEM are critically important disciplines for holistic and participative social and economic development in preparing for the future. STEM skills are important to enable us to engage with disruptive technologies. Science and Mathematics provide answers to the fundamental questions of nature and enable us to understand the world around us. STEM disciplines of knowledge enable us to measure, analyse, design and advance our physical environment and enhance our quality of life.

Our education system will need to create workers with the skills and competencies required to thrive in a continuously changing environment. The most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills through life-long learning. We need to focus on the changes to skill sets needed to accompany technological change. Everybody needs the skills to interact with digital technology, whether it is maintaining records in caring professions, taking orders in retail, or operating equipment in the processing plant.

At the moment there is neither an overarching, coherent, cooperative strategy, nor a clearly-articulated STEM education policy. Many lack sufficient literacy, numeracy and STEM skills to meet this challenge. This technological disruption has outpaced our education system with literacy and numeracy in the reverse gear. The overall levels of performance and engagement in STEM subjects appear to be diminishing. This is not a good omen for sustaining our economic ambitions for the future. Thus, we believe a paradigm shift in STEM performance and outcomes is needed in the entire educational system.

In meeting the technologically driven change and complex social and environmental challenges, our vision is to equitably provide students with a STEM educational experience of the highest international quality. STEM education will play a crucial role in preparing for the future by paying attention to groups who are underrepresented in the STEM disciplines. At the same time, we need to take measures to fill gaps between the employability skills and the STEM-related skills.

If Sri Lanka is to become a hub of technological creativity and a leader in innovation, providing STEM Education of the highest quality is essential. STEM Expertise is necessary to drive our economic ambitions, support innovation and provide the foundations for our future prosperity. If Sri Lanka is to become a knowledge-based economy, we need to see that the quality and quantity of STEM are of a high standard. We will increasingly need scientifically-literate citizens for making well-informed decisions regarding major global issues such as climate change, sustainability, energy, and food security.

STEM education is multi-faceted. The four STEM disciplines include a wide range of STEM subjects that students can engage in during their educational life. We believe that the foundations for STEM education begin in early childhood when children naturally engage in early STEM exploration through hands-on multisensory and creative experiences. This helps young children to develop curiosity, inquisitiveness, critical-thinking and problem-solving capacities. We believe that STEM education not only involves the teaching of these disciplines and subjects in isolation but also involves a cross-disciplinary approach. We also recognise that a strong link between STEM and an Arts education will foster: design, creativity and innovation.

We will establish a STEM Education Review Committee (STEMERC) to carry out a comprehensive review of STEM education which will make a set of recommendations that would address identifiable deficits in the primary, secondary and tertiary education, and lift the quality of the STEM education system to the highest standards. The STEMERC committee through public consultations will draw upon the expertise of specialists in their respective fields, including the broader community. From a forward-thinking perspective, it is important building awareness, both in industry and among training and education providers, of the potential for Industry 4.0 technologies and service-based approaches to transform the industrial base.

Our priorities will be on teacher quality as it will be the main determinant of the quality of the education system. We will also implement the best methods to enhance learning, and endeavour to create heightened awareness of STEM careers, particularly among the rural children. A system of Professional Standards for Teachers and a National Curriculum will be developed to ensure high-quality teaching. This will be reflected and incorporated in all government policies and initiatives.

We will develop Innovation Sri Lanka 2025 as a strategy for Research and Development, Science and Technology. The STEM national action agenda will involve increasing teacher capacity in STEM, increasing student knowledge, participation and understanding of STEM, encouraging school system support for STEM education initiatives and facilitating effective partnerships.

In this light STEMERC will examine ways to:

  • establish STEM education research as a national research priority with multi-annual, sustained funding commitment;

  • prepare teachers for STEM education including developing specialist qualified STEM teachers;

  • support the existing STEM staff through mechanisms such as Continuing Professional Development and new teaching and learning modalities;

  • provide for the broad base of STEM skills needed for future;

  • foster student autonomy and responsibility through supporting inquiry-based learning;

  • recognise the value and demand for STEM-skilled people;

  • promote leadership in actively addressing all inequalities in education, employment and participation;

  • use digital technologies to enhance learning;

  • promote STEM careers and methods to enhance student STEM engagement;

  • develop successful working partnerships with a shared vision based on trust and enthusiasm and benefits for all involved;

  • ensure a high-quality graduate output aligned with national economic needs; and

  • introduce digital technology to facilitate international collaboration in STEM subjects amongst schools, and between schools and research facilities.

Based on the STERMEC recommendations, we will produce an integrated National STEM Education Policy Statement with input from, all the relevant stakeholders across the continuum of education. The implementation of this policy will require commitment, investment and early action, together with partners across all the primary stakeholders in both the formal and the informal learning sectors.

The findings of the committee will be considered within our overarching framework of providing primacy to the shared values for the whole of society as against profit maximisation for the few.

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