Prof Sachidanand Sinha and Dr Simi Mehta

“Making STEM cities mean to use all the resources of a city and bring them together to create great STEM learning experiences for students.” Said Dr Cliff Zingtraff in a webinar organized jointly by Center for ICT for Development at Impact and Policy Research Institute along with Indrastra global on Making STEM Cities: Education Ideas and Strategies, for Policymakers to Students. His experience in the field of STEM education have made the learning process more exciting for school students as well as for university education.

Dr Zingtraff, Chief Learning Officer of the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT), Texas talked about three topics – vision, ideas and challenges of scale and power of partnerships around making cities STEM oriented. He exemplifies a program named SA Smart program: the mayor K-12 Smart city challenge which was implemented in San Antonio, Texas to make learning for middle and high grade students more technology oriented and interesting.

The program was started with the announcement of three topics –transportation (2018), sustainability (2019), and digital inclusion (2020). First, they run a clinic for students between February and May. Students of grades seven to twelve involved in research and were mentored by adult professionals and in the end, they deliver their presentations as part of the competition. Presentations included the problem they were solving; solution and rationale behind the solution.

Achievements of this program:

  • Students are working on real problems.
  • Cross-sector partnerships where the government, industry, universities, and other employers were involved.
  • Enhancing research skills of students as they learnt to communicate their ideas and learn from feedback.

Challenges in scaling up this program:

  • The teacher plays the role of facilitator. Teacher training is not lectured based pedagogy but project-based learning type pedagogy.
  • Students might need to move around town and therefore proper resources should be available for successful implementation of the program.
  • For this program to be successful there needs to be alignment between testing and accountability.

He warned that failure rate of such programs is high, however, students will learn in the process and oftentimes efforts don’t survive in the original form but elements of that viewpoint do survive which will improve the system. He encouraged not to concern about failure but look into how the system will improve. He question the productivity of entrance tests which is the base of admissions in different institutions.

Dr. Zingtraff also gave an example of Medellin, Columbia which is an economically challenged city but to overcome this disparity they put city development, recruitment of big companies, development of small companies, city planning, and STEM education under one roof and have representatives of these segments sitting at the same table once a week talking to each other and thinking about how to develop a knowledge-based economy and that’s why they were named the most innovative city of the year globally in 2012.

Prof Sachidanand Sinha, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi highlighted the inequities in the Indian educational system design and thus the problem of scaling will exist.  He suggested that such programs will be successful only if needs of different clientele of students will be addressed. In Indian context, there is lack of alignment between the administrators, teachers, and community since they exist at different levels. He recalled, in 2002, as part of the Right to Education, many hierarchies of centers were created in India where teachers could interact within but there are no good studies, leaving these discussion fruitless.

Dr. Simi Mehta mentioned it is important to design the curriculum intelligently and mainstream creativity lead initiatives in core curriculum instead of extra-curricular activities for grades. She also highlighted the importance of linguistic adjustments in STEM education in India.

Mr. Sameer Unhale, Commissioner, Department of Municipal Corporation, Maharashtra pointed out that one of the biggest challenges in India is the size since changes at national level are difficult to implement.

Acknowledgements: Tanya Agrawal is a research intern at IMPRI and is pursuing MA Economics from Ashoka University, Sonepat.

YouTube Video for Making STEM Cities: Education Ideas and Strategies, for Policymakers to Students

Picture Courtesy: STEM Champ