As an educator, I have been casting around for a considerable time asking myself, “When will we, in this society come to the realization of the importance of STEM as the driving force of the XXIst century?”
My quest for an answer has recently been struck by two important releases. In order of importance these are: the newly released “UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030” and an article published in the Global Edition of University World News, Nov. 15.
The article, captioned “Pressing problems spur radical shift in global science,” opens with this interesting observation by Irina Bokova, the UNESCO Director-General – “The debate between quick scientific gains and long-term public investment in basic and high-risk research to enlarge the scope of scientific discoveries has never been so relevant.”
With no disrespect to the accountants, attorneys and all those who practice in ancillary services, this is a statement to which those of us in Caymanian society who lay claim to enlightenment should be paying increasing attention. And, yet, it seems that our focus is eternally concentrated on cloning more accountants, more attorneys and more business majors, in spite of the apparent logjam and the lamented diminishing employment prospects in these areas.
The challenges of the twenty-first century are challenges which will have to be solved by Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) experts. Permit me to once more reference the UNESCO Director-General when she remarked that there is a relentless drive toward innovation to overcome global pandemics, water shortages, food and energy insecurity and climate change.
An increasing number of countries are incorporating science, technology and innovation in their national development agendas in order to move toward such innovation and the knowledge economy. Here in the Cayman Islands we are facing the prospects of a shrinking economy based upon international finance. Additionally, the second pillar of our economy is similarly fickle, as competition for the tourist dollar becomes more acute by the day. The most sobering reality in this realm, however, has to be the question of how are we going to balance developing needed tourism infrastructure with the potential destruction of our environment?
Here at the University College we have been following this debate while, at the same time, heeding the global trend of STEM promotion. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Bill Hrudey, the UCCI faculty, students and certain enlightened private sector elements and token government support, the biennial UCCI STEM Conference draws regional and international support. Led by the energy and scientific expertise of Dr. Hrudey, complemented by private sector donations, the University College boasts of having, comparatively speaking, the best solar observatory in the Caribbean.
This Observatory and the leadership and inspiration of our STEM faculty members has ensured that UCCI is geared up for a position at the cusp of science and innovation. The STEM programs are growing in popularity and our achievements are limited only by our inability to purchase cutting edge technology and lack of space for modern laboratories. We are encouraged by the dedication of our instructors and by the aptitude displayed by our students, buoyed by Dr. Hrudey’s inspiration.
Those wishing to learn of the caliber of our students need only be informed that just this past summer two of our female students, Kerry Forbes and Samantha Cridland won the first and second prizes, respectively, at the International Summer Camp put on for Women in Science and Engineering in Wels, Austria.
Now, if our students can accomplish this with access to only a poorly equipped laboratory, imagine how they would perform with state-of-the-art equipment in a spacious and modern laboratory.
Finally, let me return to the idea of STEM in our national development and suggest that the time has now come for the convening of suitably interested persons to determine what, if any, importance STEM should have in our National Strategic Development Plan?
With respect to the UNESCO Science Report: Toward 2030, I strongly recommend its consideration by our national education establishment and policymakers. I shall wait with eager anticipation to see whether we have the courage to embark on the proper path, or whether we will be fed more of the same over-used asseverations.