Sunday, April 10, 2016

More needed to prepare young Canadians for STEM, space careers

Four stories turned up in the media last week about young Canadians excelling at space-related projects. On the surface, it looks like we’re doing fine preparing the next generation for the space industry, and for science careers in general.

Dig deeper, though, and the situation isn’t as good as it should be.

First, look at the successes noted just last week. At the university level:

At the high school level:

Yoon Shin is an 18-year-old student at St. Catharines Collegiate in St. Catharines, Ontario. What sets him apart from other students there is he already has his own rocket company and interest in his work from venture capitalists.

Shin was recently nominated as an aerospace semifinalist in the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, a worldwide competition funded by NASA, SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin. Read more in Teenager sets heights high in rocket science.

At the elementary school level:

Students from St. John Paul II Elementary School in Bolton, Ontario, will track a satellite from a Remote Mission Operations Centre (RMOC) built in their school. Canadensys Aerospace, a Bolton-area space company, is helping the students put it together and run it.

What's really interesting about this project is the students themselves. The entire student body of the school, kids in Kindergarten to Grade 8, will participate.

Talk about getting them young. Read more in Canadian students to conduct real space mission operations from their school.

Now for the other side of the story.

As noted in an in-depth story from 2015, The growth of space-based STEM for kids in Canada, students here lag behind those in other countries in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

This story mentions various programs currently running that are preparing Canadian kids for the science world, but it also shows, through reports and statistics, that the overall effort isn’t coordinated well enough cross-country, leaving too many kids without adequate exposure to STEM subjects. And like other countries, we have a gender gap problem in the sciences.

The government seems to take this issue seriously. A number of recent announcements from Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada suggest that the government’s innovation agenda is targeting education as well as business.

The bottom line: Plenty of Canadian kids are getting the science education they need, but we need to reach the ones who have been overlooked.

A stepped-up, coordinated effort by government, with help from existing private initiatives, should get us there.

We’ll have to see if the government follows through on what they’ve started. If they do, the highlighted success stories in the media last week can become commonplace in Canada in the near future.