STEM – Innovation and Economic Development

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By Karen Abrams, MBA – Ed.D Curriculum Development – Education Technology ‘25
Innovation is defined as the improvement of existing products, processes, services, and business or organizational models which drive long-term economic growth, competitiveness, and quality-of-life improvements, or the creation of entirely new ones.  A U.S. Department of Commerce study found that technological innovation has been responsible for as much as 75 percent of the growth in the American economy since World War II. In fact, some studies have estimated that innovation drives up to 90 per cent of per capita income growth. This is because innovation enables the productivity improvements that lie at the core of economic growth. It is important to note that such science and technology-based innovation is impossible without a workforce educated in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Over the next decade, innovation in Guyana will be largely driven by foreign companies which are coming to invest in Guyana’s major industries.  STEM preparation for Guyana’s youth is all the more important if they are to take advantage of the multiple career opportunities that will be available in the country over the next two decades.  My own prediction is that young people who are prepared with skills like the ability to think critically, problem solve, collaborate, communicate (written & oral) and who are imbued with self-confidence and discipline will find themselves having to choose from among several job opportunities in the near future. The purpose of driving STEM education though, is not principally to create economic opportunity for individuals, rather, it is to provide the “fuel” necessary for powering a technology-driven economy.

US researchers Atkinson and Mayo, in their 2010 study of technology education in the United States cautioned that without the right number and quality of STEM-educated citizens, the innovation economy would falter, and with it, economic opportunity for all. The report cites as a warning the situation in the U.K. between 1960 and 1990, a time the U.K. saw its technology industry decline significantly, with the total increase in U.K. manufacturing output only 1.3 percent, compared to 69 percent in Japan, 55 percent in the United States, and 32 percent in Germany. The researchers argue that a move away from Science education was the reason for the decline in innovation.   Atkinson and Mayo suggest following in the footsteps of China, whose officials recognize that without STEM graduates, a country does not innovate or, consequently, create jobs based on innovation.

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It is important to note that  publicly funded research is also important for long term improvements in a country’s productivity.  Researchers Psacharopoulos and Patrinos, in their 2010 study looking specifically at STEM education and innovation, noted that the societal return on investment from publicly funded research and development (R&D) are estimated to range from 20 percent to 67 percent, making studies of innovation-stimulating education of particular interest to policymakers. Because of the plethora of studies with consistent findings, it is now clear why,  in recent years, many governments have policy agendas around lifting STEM performance (quantity and quality) to meet the challenges of international competitiveness and, in turn, productivity. In October, 2019, one hundred ninety nations will send teams of young people to Dubai for a global robotics coopertition. For the vast majority of countries involved, winning is not the point of participation in this event, the point is to expose and inspire the next generation of young innovators within their own countries.  The point is to invest in the future economic development of their countries. 

The STEMGuyana leadership team believes that a more effective route to producing the 5 percent or so of youth who have the skills needed to be STEM workers and innovators in the new Guyana economy is to embrace a system where student interests and passion for STEM are what drive curricula. This means providing opportunities for Guyanese youth of all ethnicities, genders, interests, geographies and economic abilities; who are interested in technology, to be exposed to engaging STEM curriculum where their talents can be nurtured and they can be prepared from as young as primary school levels to be the next generation of innovators who will create companies and drive massive economic growth in Guyana over the next twenty five years.  It is the sole reason why STEMGuyana’s partners fund expansion of STEM clubs into communities all across Guyana without regard to economic status, gender or race. All interested youth of Guyana should be given the opportunity to participate fully in the future innovation economy of Guyana.

Finally, we need to recognize that for an innovation economy to flourish, we need people with strong fundamental skills, who are not only so well grounded they can generate new ideas, but people who also have the skill set to move their ideas into products, i.e., to be entrepreneurs either inside or outside of corporate walls. The key question is whether we as a nation will be able to do so with the fairness, imagination, creativity and boldness needed. For the sake of our children let’s hope the answer is yes.



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