Should the “E” in STEM education stand for English?

April 16, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Should the “E” in STEM education stand for English?

IMG_5412There has been so much discussion about focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education in the K – 12 school system.  While I see the strong case for preparing our young people for the jobs of the future, I also see a lack of good English writing skills, literacy skills, and a basic lack of communication skills in English, for those students who are new to our country. Northern Virginia has, and continues to attract, a strong base of employers who depend on a highly-skilled and technology-experienced workforce. There is a workforce skills gap now, and it will be even greater in the future. Preparing young people for those future jobs is, indeed, important. Yet not at the expense of teaching quality writing and communication skills, and also English language skills to those families in need. And I do mean families in need. Not just school-aged children who might receive some English language instruction as part of their school day or special after-school programs, but also their parents.

According to a recent article by Carole Thompson Cole in the Capital Business Journal of The Washington Post, “Forty-one percent of kids under age 18 in this region have at least one immigrant parent, and limited English skills make them less likely to graduate, attend college or qualify for high-skilled jobs.” We also know that if parents do not have strong language and literacy skills, their children will be left behind their peers before they even start school. Students going home to households where parents cannot read, cannot speak English, and cannot help their children navigate opportunities will remain at a disadvantage as they move through the school system. These are the parents we need to teach now, in order to prepare the next generation for the workforce needs of the future. STEM will not be useful for the 41 percent of school children who do not know basic English, and they will struggle with learning everything, including STEM, without the help of educated parents.

Please let us look at a broader picture of education for our children when talking about preparing them for the workplace. Include English language education, as needed, for children and parents, and continue to focus on English literacy and communication skills.

You can learn more about this important topic by attending Literacy Means Business on April 18, hosted by the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. Go to for more information.

Patricia M. Donnelly, Executive Director
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Rd., Falls Church, VA 22042

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