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A Whole New World

The world has changed dramatically. Over the past 20 years, the global population has exploded and more than half of us now live in cities. The internet has changed how we communicate, shop, navigate and entertain ourselves.


Yet for the most part, the education system has failed to keep up with the change. Most schools around the world still rely on an educational model created a century ago, when the main purpose of schooling was to create a productive workforce for an industrializing society. Logical, linear capabilities that led to predictable, repeatable outcomes were being valued then. However, the skillsets required to thrive in today's innovation-driven economy are vastly different.

Economies around the world now run on creativity, innovation and collaboration. Customization, globalization and automation are reshaping the workplace. According to the “New Vision for Education” report by the World Economic Forum, all these factors have contributed to a decline in jobs that involve routine manual and cognitive skills and a rise in jobs that require non-routine analytical and interpersonal skills. All too often, however, countries are not finding enough skill labors to compete, and students are not attaining the skills required to succeed.

"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow."


  ~ John Dewey (American reformer)

The Most Needed 21st-Century Skills

So what will be the skills that are needed most? The World Education Form study has defined 16 skills as the most critical 21st-century skills. These 16 skills are distilled into three broad categories: foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities:

21 century skills.png

Similarly, many experts and education institutions have come up with their own version of 21st-century skillset, with all of them stressing the importance of going beyond a deep understanding of academic content.

STEAM education, the new model for 21st-century

How do we enable students to equip themselves with the 21st-century skills? The introduction of the STEM concept by the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2001 aimed to address this concern. STEM is an acronym that stands for “Science”, “Technology”, “Engineering” and “Math”, and the model calls for the improvement of school’s curriculum by integrating the knowledge and skills of these four disciplines, and relating teaching to the outside world. STEM impresses 21st-century skills acquisition so that students gain proficiency in collaboration, questioning, problem-solving, critical thinking etc. The STEM model has since become the primary formula for school curriculum across the US and many countries in the world.


While some believe that the STEM educational strategy is effective in fostering economic growth and national development, many soon realized the fallacy of leaving arts out of the equation. The push towards STEM in many schools has found other necessary skills being excluded and the funding and attention for arts programs being marginalized.


Championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) since 2016, the STEAM movement is about adding “Art” to turn "STEM" to “STEAM”. RISD believes that design thinking and creativity are essential ingredients for innovation, and that true innovation comes from combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer.


Making the case for creativity was at the heart of the RISD-led movement to promote STEAM. RISD believes that the success of the movement in the US "was driven by student interest, and by K-12 teachers who knew that the practical application of interdisciplinary, project-based learning was a familiar methodology that worked. RISD’s advocacy platform reflected that grassroots knowledge – adding the ‘A’ for art and design to science, technology, engineering, and math to empower creatives and promote collaboration across the disciplines.”


As a result, the STEAM movement has gained much traction in the education space and increasingly seen as the key ingredient for the transformation of K-12 schools.

"There is great power in these fields taken separately, and even more when they are put together... 

We need to add Art to turn STEM to STEAM"


                     ~ John Maeda (Former RISD President & MIT Media Lab professor)

Yet the question remains, are schools really reflecting that shift in paradigm? In many cases, no.

Transformation is challenging. We’re here to help.

According to XQ’s 2018 Study on “High School & The Future of Work”, more than 50% of 12th graders in the US say their math work is “too easy”, and only 34% claim to be engaged in the classroom. Worse still, only 44% say they are excited about the future. While many educators recognize that the schools are not preparing students for the future, they find it difficult to build consensus on the what and the how of transforming the landscape of schools.


It is under such context that this K12 Mens et Menus project emerged. MIT is a pioneer in STEAM education, and our team believes that there is much that K-12 educators can learn from its success. We hope this project will help enhance people's understanding of MIT's education philosophy towards STEAM, as well as offer practical guidance on how to advance STEAM education in the K-12 space.

[Note: "K-12" is a US expression that refers to kindergarten to Grade 12, i.e. school grades prior to college. "Mens et Manus" is MIT's motto, which means "Mind & Hand" in Latin.] 


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