The Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS) is a regional network of Academies of Sciences  created  in  2004  to  support  cooperation  towards  the strengthening of science and technology as a tool for advancing research and development, prosperity and equity in the Americas.

In 2020, the National Academy of Sciences of Argentina (ANC) proposed to IANAS the re-launching of its Science Education Program (IANAS-SEP), which had been inactive since 2017. With approval from the executive committee of IANAS, ANC convened a panel to reignite a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and public engagement by member countries, and catalyze collaborations to share effective practice.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has underscored the critical importance of STEM skills,  which  includes  scientific  literacy,  and  the  role  that  scientists,  social  scientists,  health  scientists,  mathematicians  and  engineers  can  play  supporting  outreach and education for youth, educators, policy makers and the public.

The panel  met  several  times  virtually  and  collaboratively  developed  this  statement to inspire action at the regional and local levels through the IANAS Science Education  Program  Focal  Points.  The  goal  of  the  statement,  itself,  is  to  inspire  members of IANAS Academies to support and enhance early years, primary, secondary and post-secondary STEM education and public engagement activities in order to develop a scientifically literate and engaged citizenship.

In  this  statement, “STEM”  stands  for  science  (life,  health  and  physical  sciences),  technology, engineering and mathematics, representing specific disciplines. However,  the  committee  also  used  the  term  “STEM”  in  the  broader  context  of  multi/inter-disciplinary approaches in education that bring the disciplines together in relevant ways. The phrase “scientific literacy” (defined as the knowledge and understanding  of  scientific  concepts  and  processes  required  for  personal  decision  making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity is also  used  in  the  broad  context  of  supporting  literacy  and  skills  across  all  STEM  fields.

It is our hope that this statement will motivate and support members of IANAS Academies and SEP Focal Points to: engage in STEM education and outreach with schools,  communities,  and  local  governments  and  policy-makers;  support  organizations that are dedicated to these pursuits; and continue the collaborative approach that resulted in this statement.

Executive Summary

Science and technology are impacting and reshaping nearly every aspect of life, from  leisure,  schooling  and  work  to  understanding  and  solving  pressing  global  problems such as pandemics and other health crises, climate change, sustainable energy, agriculture, access to clean water and more.

Scientific literacy and the skills developed through engagement with science, technology,  engineering  and  mathematics  (STEM)  have  never  been  more  important.  These skills include, but are not limited to, problem-solving, critical thinking, numeracy and mathematical thinking, digital skills, and communication. Exposure to  STEM  fields,  starting  young,  also  develops  confidence  and  builds  knowledge,  both of which are required to ask questions and participate in meaningful ways in emerging social, ethical and economic debates about complex issues, such as sustainable development, artificial intelligence and genomics in our rapidly changing world.

There  is  also  growing  concern  about  the  continued  lack  of  diversity  across  the  STEM research enterprise itself, public trust in STEM, and the public’s ability to decipher  a  growing  amount  of  misinformation  and  disinformation.  STEM  skills  are associated with higher-paying jobs in general, yet there continues to be a wage gap between men and women. These factors underscore the critical importance of educating youth in ways that help all students see STEM as accessible to them. Technological  advances  are  rapidly  changing  the  nature  of  work,  underscoring  the  importance  of  ensuring  students  graduate  with  needed  skills.  It  also  points  to the importance of engaging the public, including leaders and decision-makers, in  meaningful  ways  on  STEM-based  issues  to  tackle  emerging  challenges  and  embrace  opportunities  with  transparency.  Otherwise,  the  risks  are  very  high  of  ever-expanding  social  divides,  escalating  issues  of  injustice,  equality,  equity  and  diversity.

Members  of  IANAS  Academies  have  a  responsibility  to  support  education  and  public engagement to develop STEM literacy, skills and trust. There are significant differences across the IANAS member countries with respect to spending on education, youth performance on international tests, teacher training, government investment in STEM and innovation, and economic prosperity. However, there are many similarities and much to learn from each other.

The time is right for IANAS to re-launch its Science Education Program (IANAS-SEP)  and  catalyze  a  concerted  STEM  education  and  outreach  effort  to  achieve the following goals:

  1. Strengthen scientific literacy, building critical thinking skills, fostering curiosity and catalyzing lifelong interest in STEM
  2. Build capacity across all levels of the formal education system (early childhood, primary,  secondary,  and  post-secondary  education)  by  promoting  inquiry-based  STEM education
  3. Foster  equality  by  improving  equity,  diversity,  inclusion  and  accessibility  across  STEM fields
  4. Build career awareness and workforce development to support a changing global economy
  5. Enhance STEM education for Sustainable Development This statement sets out key recommendations to achieve these goals, thereby contributing  to  achieving  the  following  vision:  Members  of  IANAS  Academies  contribute  to  the  development  of  informed  citizens  who  use  and  engage  with  science,  technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in meaningful ways and can participate in a new global economy and STEM workforce.

The  following  recommendations  were  developed  by  the  panel  for  use  by  members  of IANAS Academies to accomplish the five goals listed above. They are further de-tailed in the following sections.

Recommendations to support learning in and outside school

  • A.1  Support  educator  training  and  professional  learning  to  build  confidence  in  teaching STEM content knowledge and effective pedagogy.
  • A.2 Support access to effective learning resources that improve STEM education.
  • A.3  Build  digital  literacy,  including  computational  thinking,  amongst  students  and  teachers.
  • A.4  Involve  scientists  and  engineers,  including  post-secondary  students,  industry professionals, early career academics and Young Academy members, in STEM education.
  • A.5  Engage  school  administrators  and  community  organizations  in  understanding  the value of STEM education and building a culture of inquiry in their school and community, contributing to the development of a vibrant STEM education ecosystem.

Recommendations for engaging civil society

  • B.1 Engage proactively with media (social media and traditional) to popularize STEM disciplines and share academic work in accessible, relevant and engaging ways.
  • B.2  Engage  the  public  through  popularization  events  (e.g.  festivals,  cafes,  public  lectures),  consultations,  and  community-based  research  activities  that  involve  the  co-creation of knowledge.
  • B.3 Engage with government representatives to inform relevant policy initiatives.
  • B.4 Engage with industry to understand and support their needs (e.g. research, talent development), and engage them in communication and education activities.

Finally,  it  should  be  noted  that  members  of  the  STEM  community,  including  IANAS, have always engaged with youth, educators, policy-makers and the public.  However,  due  to  existing  systemic  institutional  barriers  the  importance  of  these  outreach  efforts  is  not  always  recognized.  This  statement  underscores  the critical role that IANAS’s Science Education Program must play in addressing these barriers and explicitly acknowledge the inherent importance of supporting education and community engagement. The future of STEM relies on public trust, engaged citizens and the development of diverse talent.

Download the full report Catalyzing STEM Education and Public Engagement through the IANAS Science Education Program.