Early education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is important not just because it builds the foundation for success in those fields, but for almost all aspects of modern life, writes Jonathan Wai, a researcher at the Duke University Talent Identification Program and Case Western Reserve University. He says education in mathematics in particular builds some of the key competencies--pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, and problem solving--necessary for success.
Wai points to numerous billionaires including Carlos Slim and Steve Schwartzman, who credit their accumulated wealth to their facility with numbers. Wai's own research has found that nearly a quarter of the attendees of the annual gathering of the world's monied elite in Davos, Switzerland, have backgrounds in STEM fields, a number that jumps to almost 30 percent of the billionaires in attendance.
However, Wai also recognizes the way to impart the benefits of numeracy to the next generation is not necessarily to teach more math, but to do a better job of teaching math. Math is too often taught through the rote memorization of formulas and rules, which actively stifles the development of the very competencies necessary for success in the field. Wai advocates a less constrained approach that highlights the joy of math, not its drudgery.
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