As usual, on September 1, everyone talks about education. Everyone understands that it is the key to the future, in which Ukraine will be better than it is now. Because everyone dreams of their children working with their heads, not their hands, earning a lot of money, and being admired by the whole world for the technologies they create. And one of the recipes they offer for this is STEM education.
What the Ukrainian school needs
Every year on September 1, even people who don’t relate to education in any way start to remember it and express their opinions on how to save it. Traditionally, a lot of talk is about how not to overload children, make their learning interesting and provide them with skills that they will need in life. With the onset of large-scale Russian invasion into Ukraine, the issue of security was added to this list.
But there are other issues that people usually avoid. For example, what should the Ukrainian school be like for our state to prosper? The Russian invasion has clearly shown that in the modern world, the successful country is the one that has its own technologies, embodied in a powerful production.
However, assembly shops and laboratories, from which robots, space rockets, supercomputers and fighter jets come out, do not arise by themselves. They are made by people — highly paid specialists who have theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Usually, states look for such people among their citizens, but they also do not come from nowhere among the adult population.
One of the most important tasks facing the modern Ukrainian school is to provide children with such preparation within its walls that after graduation they could easily get everything they need in higher education institutions to become successful engineers and inventors. Fortunately, developed countries already have a ready-made recipe for this case — STEM education. In Ukraine, the school system is built on a different principle. Our school gives more powerful theoretical knowledge, which often does not tie to real projects and practical use.
Historically, it so happened that in our country the role of laboratories, where theory can be embodied in practice, is performed by extracurricular clubs and organizations. In fact, for education it is extremely important that theory goes hand in hand with practice. “It is impossible to imagine STEM education without fundamental disciplines: mathematics, physics, chemistry, — says Sergey Veretyuk, head of Noosphere Engineering School. — The basis of engineering activity is a fundamental understanding of the nature of things, phenomena and processes. This understanding cannot be intuitive, it must be based on a confident mastery of mathematical apparatus, conscious understanding of basic physical laws, general laws of development. Also, the role of mathematics is often reduced to counting and calculations, the ability to use appropriate methods of mathematical analysis, while omitting the ability of mathematics to develop abstract thinking, imagination, creativity — without which it is impossible to imagine a modern engineer today.”
The team of engineering school creates an effective startup platform for young professionals in Ukraine and integrates scientific approaches into the business environment. They try to make laboratories centers of engineering creativity, where students and young scientists can develop their innovative ideas, receiving support from tutors.
What is STEM education
The concept of STEM education originated in the early 21st century in the USA. Initially, it was used simply as a general term for the disciplines that need to be paid attention to in school, in order to get more people who can further develop innovations. “The basis of STEM (S – science, T – technology, E – engineering, M – mathematics) is natural sciences. Without these subjects, it will not be STEM education. In recent decades, technology has received rapid development, and therefore if we want to develop our children in the modern world and keep up with modern developments, we need to improve curricula and provide classrooms with the necessary equipment.” — explains Denis Khmil, Secretary General of the Federation of Rocket Modeling Sport of Ukraine.
Now in Ukraine, STEM education is understood primarily as the practical activity of children, during which they will be able to learn how to make something high-tech. Therefore, it is within its framework that clubs of robotics, programming and various modeling, including the creation of rocket models, are developing.
At the same time, there is no single approach or understanding of how STEM education should be organized. Each specialist determines the forms of his activity and how it will correlate with the school curriculum. When working with schoolchildren, this allows them to move their own trajectory and quickly achieve results that can be shown to others.
Rocket modeling as a component of STEM education
The most important requirement for modern STEM education is its visibility. That is why a noticeable part of it is various clubs, in which students create devices with their own hands that not only demonstrate this or that scientific principle, but also create amazing shows. And what can be more exciting than a rocket that launches into the sky?
Rocket modeling is a technical sport, within which participants compete in designing and manufacturing, organizing the launch of rocket models, as well as piloting them (in case we are talking about radio-controlled models). This sport is designed for people of almost all age groups. In our state it is supervised by the Federation of Rocket Modeling Sport of Ukraine. Its Secretary General Denis Khmil has his own vision of what will help Ukraine become a leading space state. In his opinion, the development of SpaceTach is one of the drivers of technological progress of the XX and XXI centuries, and therefore the latest developments are used in the conquest of space. Considering the limited resources on Earth, humanity will always strive for other planets and stars. But the main condition for successful development is the integration of STEM education both in schools and in higher education institutions. We need to move away from outdated “dry” learning, where children do not understand why they need all this knowledge and where they will use it.
Denis Khmil is confident that rocket modeling is an excellent tool for aerospace and technical education of young people. Because it allows you to look at science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the form of interesting exciting activity that requires mental effort. Designing rocket models on a computer, students have the opportunity to use their creativity in accordance with the Newton laws of physics to design their own rocket model that will be correct from the point of view of aerodynamics. Constructing rocket models hone fine motor skills, as students measure, cut and glue rocket parts according to specifications they define themselves. They get such a skill as teamwork, as well as learn how to organize groups with many special duties from launching rockets and collecting valuable data for processing and analysis in the classroom. For children Pythagoras’ theorem is visualized as a giant triangle formed by the trajectory of their rocket, and Newton’s laws are fully implemented right before the eyes of students. It can be said with confidence that science, technology, engineering and mathematics through rocket modeling are implemented in real life.
Such an approach to education is warmly supported by Sergey Veretyuk. He believes that studying sciences is the foundation on which a high-tech industry can be built. However, without a strong economic component, which is embodied in scientific centers and research laboratories Ukraine will remain a country that forever catches up with others: “Undoubtedly STEM education can help Ukraine become a powerful space state. But again, if we talk about the sector economy then it should be noted that having a critical number engineers does not mean a powerful industry high technologies such as aerospace require not only first-class engineers but also analysts researchers entrepreneurs sellers marketers administrators managers So if you think holistically then a powerful space industry requires a harmonious combination of engineering financial management educational components.” — Veretyuk explains.
Advantages and challenges of the new approach
The main advantage that allows STEM education to gain popularity is its simplicity and visibility. Students have the opportunity to “skip” boring formulas and schemes and immediately move on to designing. In this way, they constantly maintain motivation and are able to assimilate theoretical knowledge that they need in the process.
The problems of this approach stem from its advantages. STEM education is a simplified model of what highly paid engineers who create new technologies do. To ensure a minimal entry threshold into it, teachers deliberately hide from children the complex moments of learning. After all, in practice, in order to produce hundreds and thousands of robots that will perform some actions, their inventor has to explain to other engineers or automated systems what they are. For this, skills of drawing and 3D modeling are required.
To make a quadcopter fly, you need to have an idea of lift, master the formulas for calculating the state of the device. To simply calculate how high a cardboard rocket will rise, you need to be able to solve the same problems from school physics that everyone considers boring.
“STEM education is not something instantaneous. — says Denis Khmil, — So the question sounds strange. Why strange, because it implies that the war will be long as many years of schooling. STEM education is not some course for a couple of months, after which children will work and create modern products. This is a long-term education. We have to distract children from the war and create conditions for full-fledged comprehensive development. Now the educational process is disrupted in many places. All online learning has a very bad effect on the quality of knowledge in children and their socialization. Extracurricular activities are good at compensating for the inadequacy of online lessons at school.”
But the truth is that war has now become a very high-tech affair and wins the one who has more powerful technical and economic potential. In the opinion of Sergey Veretyuk, today the military-industrial complex needs highly qualified engineers more than ever. A huge number of initiatives for designing and developing military technologies have become possible precisely due to the existing STEM expertise and experience. However, it is necessary today to strategically approach the issue of increasing intellectual capital in the field of engineering, and STEM education should play a decisive role, because modern engineering education begins in schools.
Do you need a lot of money for STEM education?
The head of Noosphere Engineering School believes that laboratories and equipment contribute not so much to more effective learning of fundamental disciplines, but create conditions for practical and project activities within which future researchers and engineers will be able to directly see the beauty of the laws of nature, feel the taste of creativity, and embody their engineering technological dream.
“However, — he notes, — the experience of engineering schools indicates the need to implement systematic methodological work in such locations (laboratories, hubs, studios), because project and scientific activity is a systemic work. Regarding costs everything is relative. Today there is an opportunity to participate in engineering project work in various formats, including remotely. The main thing is desire, and how to implement it is a secondary question. Motivation to engage in engineering and scientific work — this is the main component of success.”
In STEM education, it is important what money is spent on, — Denis Khmil believes. What equipment to use and how to equip laboratories depends on what project children are doing: building robots, woodworking, rocket modeling, etc. For example, if you can use ready-made constructors for building robots, then for building rocket models you can use very different materials from ordinary paper, glue and scissors to 3D printers and CNC machines.
Because quality technological education is not just modern equipment, it is an interdisciplinary approach to learning that allows you to use scientific, mathematical, technical and engineering knowledge and skills acquired in practice to solve tasks. The main difference between STEM education and conventional one is that the learning process focuses on some problem or research, and the teacher acts as their mentor who helps them find solutions. During such learning students are focused not on the teacher who provides them with “dry” material but on practical task where they learn how to solve it by various trials and errors in teamwork.
“It is not correct to say financial inflows because children are investments in the future of Ukraine. — sums up Denis Khmil. — We must understand that the money we invest in education our children will return in tens or even hundreds times more in our country.”