Why STEM Education Matters and What Needs to Change


Photo © Courtesy of Let’s Talk Science

Join the Future of STEM Education in Canada talk on Thursday, May 23 at 12 pm.

“The extent to which young people are able to critically engage with and use scientific knowledge and competencies in their lives beyond the classroom will be important not only for them personally, but also for the health, fairness, and prosperity of all societies globally.” — PISA Expert Strategic Visioning Group, March 2020

In early 2020, Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, President and Founder of Let’s Talk Science, participated in the PISA Visioning Group to think about the future of science education. PISA (the program of international student assessment) is conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The test, used in more than 80 countries, measures the ability of 15-year-olds to use reading, mathematics, and science knowledge to meet real-life challenges.

“I’ve always recognized that a scientifically literate and STEM-skilled population benefits us all—that’s what Let’s Talk Science is all about,” says Schmidt. “But being part of an international group that shares that belief was inspiring. It was clear to all of us that the challenges of the 21st century require creative solutions based on scientific thinking.” Among those complex and interconnected challenges are the deepening climate crisis, rapid biodiversity loss, global health issues, and the growth of misinformation and disinformation. 

In the face of these challenges, Schmidt says STEM education is more important than ever. It helps young people adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world. It develops the problem-solving, self-directed learning, and collaboration skills they need for success. It enables them to fill jobs in key areas and prepares them for work in a sustainable economy. It fuels economic prosperity built on innovation. 

stem education in canada
© Courtesy of Let's Talk Science

Just as important, STEM education readies young people to be engaged and discriminating citizens who understand how science works and why they should trust it. Given the rise of anti-vaccine sentiment and scepticism over public health measures during the COVID pandemic, that’s critical, says Laura Elliott, Executive Director, Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE). “Tomorrow’s leaders must be able to think critically, ask the right questions, and assess evidence appropriately when making both personal and political decisions,” Laura says. “It’s essential to maintain a healthy democracy.” 

Yet while the need for STEM engagement and literacy is growing, there’s evidence that Canada is not keeping up. Demand for highly trained workers is outstripping supply in fields such as digital technology, health care, and the green economy.

This reflects some concerning trends in education. Consider that:

  • While Canadian PISA scores are still in the top tier internationally, they have been slipping over the past two decades.
  • Most Canadian students do not take biology, chemistry, physics, or computer science—courses typically accepted for admission to university STEM studies—in Grade 12. 
  • The percentage of domestic STEM university graduates in Canada has dropped significantly since 2011. 
© Courtesy of Let's Talk Science

Let’s Talk Science provides programing from early years to Grade 12, working with educators to break down barriers to STEM and ignite a sense of wonder and curiosity in children and youth. Research suggests that these programs work. For example, 74% of students who engaged with Let’s Talk Science volunteers said their interest in science increased, and 79% said they felt an increase in knowledge of the topics covered. 

But more needs to be done. The Let’s Talk Science prescription includes:

  • Evolving STEM curriculums to become more relevant, issues-based, student-centred, experiential, and muti-disciplinary 
  • Embracing Indigenous knowledge alongside traditional western science, and encouraging and supporting gender and cultural diversity 
  • Fostering the “science identity” of young people, so that they see themselves as belonging and succeeding in the world of STEM 
  • Exposing young people to positive role models in science, encouraging them to continue studying science through high school, and making them aware of pathways and careers in STEM. 

“We have an opportunity to introduce more young people to the wonders of science,” says Bonnie. “We must evolve how we teach STEM to make it more inclusive, accessible, and relevant to young people. This is about getting people ready for jobs and responsible citizenship. It’s about building a just and sustainable future.”

Join Bonnie and Laura, along with other leaders in education, for a provocative virtual conversation on May 23 at noon EST around the trends, challenges and opportunities facing the Future of STEM Education in Canada. Register here to attend live or to receive a recording of the event.  

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By introducing youth to innovation, we create a culture that values and promotes creativity, experimentation, and forward thinking. This culture fosters a sense of curiosity, open‑mindedness, and continuous improvement – driving innovation in various aspects of life.


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