STEM vs STEAM and the three R’s of education

…and innovation…and design…and art…and reading…

If you haven’t picked up on the buzz by now, STEM vs STEAM is a hot topic, but there is a lot more to it.  In case you don’t know yet, STEM is short for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics.  There are many different permutations of the STEM acronym – see the list below under the next heading.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela 

Education is certainly a powerful tool and comes in many shapes and sizes!  In extreme cases you could call it ‘brain washing’ and in other cases ‘programming’.  Life educates us every day and alters our point of view – good or bad.

As early as 1795, Sir William Curtis delivered a speech in parliament (source:  WikiPedia) wherein he coined the phrase: “The three R’s of education – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic”.  And though these may seem very basic light of the need for STEM vs STEAM education, but there are still some places in the world where reading and writing still needs to be addressed.

In some countries the literacy is as low as 27%!  See the 25 Most illiterate countries in the world.

STEM permutations

STEAM – includes art
STREM – includes reading
STEMi – includes innovation
STEAMi – includes art and innovation
i-STREAM-e – Innovation, reading, art and entrepreneurship – i think we’ve covered everything with that one.
And so I am sure there are many other variations because of inclusions or exclusions of different disciplines of study.  In the end the aim is to promote holistic education which develops the child as a complete individual that is able to apply critical thinking in everyday life to solve problems and think innovative.
STEM vs STEAM - an illustration of the two halves of the brain
But isn’t developing a well balanced individual what education on any level should be doing in any case!?  In another short blog post, I shared some videos on What should education look like?  The basic ideas brought across in these videos touch on two core ideas as far as I am concerned:
  • Most education systems today are outdated – teaching manufacturing revolution behavior and thinking
  • Education systems are ‘One size fits all’ solutions while it should be tailored to the students’ needs (primary, secondary or tertiary level)

I also covered Innovation in STEM education (iSTEM) in a post earlier this year inspired by Dr Ron Beyers of YESA.

I can already hear naysayers going “It cannot be done” or “There are to many children and too few teachers” and so on.  I say, open your mind to the possibility and rather ask: What can be done to turn the situation around?”

Does the ‘A’ matter?

Yes it does!  In an Edudemic article on their website regarding this very topic they state that: “In July 2014 Edudemic showcased an info-graphic by the University of Florida that shows how important that it is to recognize that a “half-brain” education — that is, an education that heavily favors either left-brained or right-brained subjects — is not good enough.”

In this info-graphic (found at bottom of this post), you can see some of the following facts:

  • Training in art education helps build essential interpretative skills.
  • Students who study the arts are 4 times more likely to be recognised for academic achievement.

In South Africa, we certainly know how to be creative and problem solving is a creative process.  So if we can find a way to incorporate STEM skills and arts (creativity) into a child’s basic education, such a child will be able to face the future with no limits to what could be achieved.

So in other words the STEM vs STEAM debate is an important one.


i-STREAM-e: all in one

Innovation, Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, Mathematics and Entrepreneurship – WOW! That is quite a mouth full, but I do believe it serves as an excellent continuation of the basic education basis of the three R’s we touched on earlier.

Earlier, we also touched on how the whole point of basic education is to produce a well rounded individual – wide-eyed and bushy tailed bursting with potential energy, ideas and the drive to chase his/her dreams.  That is what the education system’s ‘product’ should look like!

My wife and I are currently going through the process of finding the right school for our first born.  In a conversation with the pre-primary head master, it became clear that using outside the box methods (innovative techniques in education) has great results.

Methods that invite children in the class to challenge ideas, think about and conceptualize ideas has the result of children owning the knowledge instead of being taught to think in a certain way about any given concept.

One example of this, is to have children divide pictures into living and non-living things without teacher intervention, and then having an open discussion about why a picture was put under living or non-living (here the teacher facilitates the thought process).

The overall result of such methods are that the children enter grade 1 with skills they never had before and are more ready and whiling to learn new skills.

The ‘teach a man to fish’ story comes to mind.  Teach children how to learn instead of teaching them the facts of a subject.

Here are two STEM vs STEAM info-graphics

These two info-graphics was created by the University of Florida and illustrates the advantages of STEM vs STEAM education.  Note that STEM education have some great upsides.

STEM education help students become:

  • Better problem solvers
  • Innovators
  • Inventors
  • Self-reliant
  • Logical thinkers



As always, thank you visiting The STEM Blog of South Africa.

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8 thoughts on “STEM vs STEAM: what about i-STREAM-e?

  1. Art (and other creative pursuits) are a great way to wake up right side of the brain. One needs to have both hemispheres of the brain awake for them to work together, I feel strongly that these are the kids that grow into successful adults. Have you read Make Your Child Brilliant bu Bernadette Tynan? She gives some great tips and suggests physical activities that get the hemispheres of the brain working together.

    1. Hi Candice. Thanks for your comment,
      I agree that as much of the brain’s potential need to be tapped into (see Mind over Matter). I haven’t read ‘Make your child brilliant’ yet, but I’m about to remedy that.

  2. This article is very interesting. I’ve seen the R in STREAM used for Reading as well as Robotics but it’s my strong belief the most useful is Religion. In addition to providing a moral compass, religious studies addresses the social aspect of life. This is of particular importance in South Africa where people can’t seem to see their similarities.

  3. Jurie Weidemann thank you so much for this article for I to was a victim of the poor education in South Africa, I am in a process of opening STEAM academy i need accreditation from example SETA to train the youth ? It has always been my dream to be a social entrepreneur.

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