There's been a lot of excitement around STEM lately (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths) and not without good reason. The arguments are compelling. STEM careers are rich, diverse and rewarding and form the lifeblood of some of the fastest-growing industries in the world. These skill-sets are fundamental to innovation and something needs to be done about the skills gap. There are some brilliant campaigns and initiatives built around this important agenda, some of my favourites involving a drive to expose more girls to STEM skills and careers. We've got kids engaging with STEM professionals, kids learning to code, kids actually "making" things again - I'm sure you'd agree that it's inspiring stuff. But before you sign yourself up as a STEM evangelist, there's something that you should know. Turns out that STEAM is the new STEM. That's Science, Tech, Engineering, the Arts, and Maths.
Now, this isn't wholly surprising. Every time the STEM debate kicks off, someone inevitably brings up the importance of balancing left brain/right brain activity, simultaneously nurturing creativity and critical thinking. I may sound cynical but I'm actually a big believer in having a well-rounded education. When I was growing up, you were either an artist or a scientist (or, in MBA terminology, a poet or a quant). A few bright sparks would blur the lines, of course, but chances are you'd be put in a box at some point (or you'd put yourself in one). There are also the extreme cases - in many Indian schools, students are still cordoned off into "Science", "Commerce" and "Arts" streams at the age of 16 (and sadly, the way it most often works is that fab grades = science stream, mediocre grades = commerce, and the rest = arts).
STEAM, striking a balance between the left brain and right brain - these aren't new ideas. Our ancestors didn't all live in the same edu-silos as us. The great thinkers of the Renaissance are a case in point. Da Vinci was not just an artist but also a scientist, an architect, an engineer and a musician. Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, poet, architect and engineer. They were not only rational and analytical but also contemplative, sensitive and expressive. They wrapped their minds across multiple disciplines. They saw connections between them.
To call these thinkers "polymaths" somehow separates them from the rest of the world. And is this fair? All young children have a wonderful sense of curiosity - they assess and dissect, design and create. They are simultaneously artists and scientists, musicians and architects, linguists and inventors. When we talk about putting the "A" back into STEM, I'd like to think we're moving towards a curriculum where we revive that flexibility, that richness of being: every child an innovator, every child a polymath.