While our students are passing on paper, we are failing our students. It goes without saying that the ultimate goal of education is to prepare students for their future. While ideologically I wouldn’t say education has any place dictating what this future should hold, it undeniably has a huge part in shaping students’ interests and goals. While we are in a STEM crisis, educators have fallen asleep behind the wheel in their jobs to motivate students into these important fields. Successful educational outreach programs like Cyberpatriot puts mandatory education to shame and highlights how much more the educational system can do.
Cyberpatriot is a cyber security competition open to high school students across the nation. The competition has students fighting to secure vulnerable computers while racing against the clock all the while developing valuable skills in cybersecurity and leadership. Besides fostering these skills at an early age, Cyberpatriot also has wider motivations. Tech giants eagerly support this program and others like it not because of the skills it directly teaches, but because of the interest and confidence it fosters in its participants.
As we discussed in my very first post, employers desperately need students interested in STEM fields — so much so that they are willing to donate millions every year to get more prospective employees. For instance, Cyberpatriot’s presenting sponsor, Northrop Grumman is willing to spend millions each year on its educational outreach programs. While this corporation and others like it frame these programs as altruism, it’s easy to see the correlations between this outreach and their human resources departments’ needs. The bottom line is, corporations are putting their money where their mouths are by trusting education to get students interested in STEM fields like cyber.
There is a hard logic behind this trust. Cyberpatriot is a prime example of how effective education is in guiding career choice. Recently, the Air Force Association (the association behind Cyberpatriot) published a survey of the program’s alumni. They found that nearly 90% of respondents enrolled in a 4-year degree wound up in a STEM related major. Compared to the national average of 14%, this shows a very obvious trend. Correlation is not necessarily causation however, the same survey also found that 87% of respondents said the competition somewhat or significantly impacted their education/career goals. It should seem obvious that education is highly effective in getting students into valuable, underfilled jobs like cybersecurity unfortunately, these high-paying, fulfilling positions are still starving for applicants.
Some high schools are starting to take notice but it’s often addressed in half-measure. I remember in my freshman year of highschool we had a mandatory technology education class for half of the year. Looking back on it now, the class was obviously a response to the lack of students in technology fields. We rushed between all sorts of technology-related subjects from robotics to agricultural engineering, from electronics to Microsoft Excel. Too little, too late. For every one of these technology classes students are required to take, those same students are also required to take three times the material in both english and history. I’m not saying liberal arts are not important but there should be no question as to why so few students take STEM degrees.