Changing American science and engineering education

24 Oct

By Viviane Callier, graduate student in Duke Biology

It’s no secret that primary and secondary education in the U.S. falls behind when compared to many other developed countries.

David Kahler, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Duke’s Environmental Engineering program, has been involved in several education and outreach programs that aim to address this problem.

During his graduate career at Duke, Kahler participated in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Fellows program, which provides support for graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM. The program is called NSF GK-12.

In exchange for funding for their graduate studies, Kahler and other fellows contribute to the science curriculum in local primary and secondary schools from kindergarten through grade 12. Kahler taught science at Rogers-Herr Middle School in Durham.

He also taught for two summers in India, and in Texas, as part of Duke TIP, the Talent Identification Program, which identifies academically gifted students and provides them with intellectually stimulating opportunities.

Through these teaching experiences in different locations and cultures, Kahler observed several factors that affect the quality of education in American schools. One important factor is the training of teachers. Unfortunately, teachers are sometimes expected to teach science without having received an adequate background in the subject.

STEM fellows helped to address this problem by contributing their expertise and by helping to increase the scientific literacy of students and their teachers.

Another issue is that parents in the U.S. are often not involved in their children’s education and do not support the mission of both schools and teachers. As a result, children are not engaged in or committed to their own education. In contrast, Kahler found that in India, children are taught by their parents to value and take responsibility for learning.

Because of this difference in attitude toward education, too many American high school graduates are inadequately prepared for college.

Kahler says that NSF GK-12 has a strong, positive impact to change this because it simultaneously improves the educational experience of students in primary and secondary school and trains graduate students to communicate and teach effectively.

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