Sensitizing Our Youth to STEM Subjects – GraceKennedy’s Initiative

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What did you want to be when you grew up? Or what career path are you thinking of pursuing right now? Chances are, as a child you wanted to be something traditional – perhaps a lawyer, doctor, nurse, businessperson or a teacher.

By now however, you might find yourself thinking about getting involved in something else, something different – something unconventional. The truth is that there are a multitude of career paths that can be taken, yet not enough of our youth are sensitized to them or even given the opportunity to purse them.

That’s where STEM comes in. Short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM refers to the group of subjects and disciplines which equip students with what they need to branch off into “non-traditional” careers, like becoming computer programmers, electro-mechanical technicians, micro-biologists and nuclear engineers. Aside from education, STEM also focuses on developing students’ cognitive skills by presenting them with real problems and having them solve these capably.

Serious incorporation of STEM subjects into the pool of choices that students have can help to introduce our promising youth to a world with broader horizons and more opportunities to do what they really love. Also, aside from their own personal development, these students will go on to become assets to our country and actively contribute to Jamaica’s development, as well as building brand Jamaica both locally and internationally.

GraceKennedy Steps In

It was this need that GraceKennedy saw and decided to help solve. Prior to the opening of the STEM Centre, GraceKennedy through its Grace & Staff Community Development Foundation had been helping promising yet disadvantaged students through its homework program. Yet, this initiative revealed a weakness – students were not making the effort to venture into science and technology subjects at the CSEC level and CAPE level. Recognizing the problem that this could pose with the globalization of Jamaica as well as the need for a solution, the STEM Centre was born.

 

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Opened in November of 2014, the STEM Centre has been instrumental in helping open the minds of young people to consider pursuing STEM subjects as viable options. This is a point Tanketa Chance-Wilson, General Manager of the Grace & Staff Community Foundation brought out when asked about GraceKennedy’s involvement in STEM, “The program itself is about endless possibilities. These are students who are disadvantaged and from challenging backgrounds. We’re about opening up the world of possibilities for them. With STEM being added to what we do, it’s just increasing the options for students.”

However, recent discussions about STEM have been focused around adding the Arts to the equation, subsequently making STEM into STEAM, in an effort to sensitize youth to the possibilities that a career in the Arts could bring them. Though talk of this addition recently came about, the Grace & Staff Community Foundation has been including the Arts in their initiative from the get-go. For instance, Mrs. Chance-Wilson spoke passionately about their award-winning Camera Club comprised of two separate groups, “Our camera club has been around for a couple of years, and they have done very well, they have won awards at the national level and [these students] have really been exposed to photography as an art, as a career choice, as a hobby and as something that they can do as a form of self-expression.” In fact, these students are actually working with DSLR cameras and are trained by professionals in the field.

Having started with just 14 students, within a year the number of youth impacted by the STEM Centre has grown to a total of more than 120 students, ranging from the primary to CAPE level. You’ll be pleased to know that the Grace & Staff Community Development Foundation has no intention to stop any time soon. Mrs. Chance-Wilson also shared the collective vision for the STEM Centre, “We really want to have a world-class centre of excellence, where we deliver instruction and assistance to students, in order to see improved academic performance in the STEM subjects. We also want to improve students’ self-confidence to perform, and build self-esteem and positive skills [through] the STEM-related subjects, since STEM-teaching is project based. [It would show them] not just wrong and right but it’s about the effort you put into your work.”

No doubt, more emphasis placed on STEAM areas will help Jamaica progress to the realization of Vision 2030, which is to make Jamaica the “ideal place to live, work, raise families and do business.” Limitless potential lies within our country’s youth, and initiatives like the STEM Centre are created to tap into these vast reservoirs. Is it important for Jamaica to focus on STEAM subjects? What do you think?

 

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