Educational approaches around the world are now focusing on STEAM as opposed to the traditional STEM framework. Why is this so? How does STEAM impact our children’s future? And what can you do for your child?
– Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
“To prepare our young to seize these opportunities … we have to focus more on applied learning … we have to promote lifelong learning.”
What is STEAM?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The initial STEM education pushed for advancements in technology, yet something started to become more apparent. We can have lots of bots, but you can’t code creativity or program imagination.
It begged the question: What’s the point of having high-tech robots without creative minds that can take ideas further?
Thus, the integration of Arts into STEM began. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. Yakman  breaks it down into the STEAM Pyramid (as seen below), which illustrates how imparting content-specific subjects in primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education can lead to holistic, lifelong skills and a great foundation for your child’s aspirations.
While STEM pushed for using math and science concepts integrated with engineering design to create real-world technologies, the Arts was needed to fill in the gap of essential life skills. This included innovating, creativity, critical thinking, possibility thinking, and much more [2, 3, 4].
Though the term ‘STEAM’ is not widely used in Singapore, it’s clear that the Ministry of Education is also gearing up for STEAM education for our young ones. “This is an investment worth making to nurture innovation and creativity,” the then Minister for Education (Schools), Ng Chee Meng, said. “And importantly, prepare our children for the future.” 
STEAM Education for the Future
STEAM was proposed as the perfect harmony of the logical STEM and creative Arts in 2008  as creativity became highly valued in modern education . The blending of subjects enabled children to improve their cognitive and affective skills, while internally motivating them to learn .
With it came a bonus advantage: teaching the Arts would include hands-on and emotional learning experiences that would interest and internally motivate children in their education . This would engage students in the content and improve their success in STEM subjects as well .
Ultimately, the aim of Arts in STEM education is to impart creativity and critical thinking. It is becoming increasingly apparent that this skill is important today. It would also widen their horizons into thinking about the world, empathy, communication and the social sciences . The arts is where things like education, sociology and linguistics fall under, and are also connected to STEM fields.
It’s full STEAM ahead!
Since 2013, Singapore has been integrating STEAM into our education system. Aside from making coding mandatory for students, all primary schools will offer Applied Learning Programmes (ALP) by 2023, which aims to cater to different interests, including STEM, aesthetics, languages, humanities, entrepreneurship and many more . Although not explicitly named STEAM, it is evident that the ALP comprises STEM and Arts (or Aesthetics).
You can view the list of Singapore Secondary Schools that have ALP by clicking here (last updated 20 August 2020).
This provides a new avenue for Direct School Admissions (DSA), with schools like the School of Science and Technology and National Junior College already naming STEAM in their selection criteria. International Schools like the Stamford American School and Canadian International School have also integrated STEAM into their schools. The term STEAM may not be used, but this holistic education is around us.
Speaking about applied learning, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “Our challenge now is to continue creating opportunities for our young to fulfil their aspirations in a future which is going to be very different. An economy which is more sophisticated and diversified, where the growth is going to come from productivity improvements and new products and services, not yet dreamt of or invented.” 
“To prepare our young to seize these opportunities,” PM Lee continued, “we have to focus more on applied learning … we have to promote lifelong learning.” 
What can you do for your child?
To create a comprehensive foundation for your child’s future, it is essential to integrate creativity through the Arts in a way that naturally fits into STEM . This prepares them for life and the future where STEAM comes together for great things and real-world solutions.
In the 21st century, using IT is an attractive alternative to learn STEAM contents for a digital generation , while also promoting computational and technological literacy . Coding is a great example of integrative STEAM learning, which utilises math and science skills while applying creativity to designs to solve problems. For example, our 7 to 9-year olds learn Scratch, a colourful drag-and-drop programming platform that kickstarts their coding journeys.
Aside from learning the basics of coding in an eye-catching interface, it also imparts many other skills. From brainstorming for their projects to bringing it to fruition, the process includes problem-solving codes, drawing and designing their own games and characters, and self-confidence as they strengthen their abilities.
– Foo Yong Ning, founder of Coding Lab
“One does not have to aspire to be a computer scientist to learn to code.“
When parents are involved in the coding process, there are other potential and powerful learning experiences of coding such as providing avenues for bonding and interacting through a shared experience. Coding also calls for active participation and inquiry-based learning . Coupled with hands-on experiences when learning software and programming hardware (such as sensors and microcontrollers), applying what they have learned would also foster understanding and encourage deeper learning of STEAM .
“One does not have to aspire to be a computer scientist to learn to code,” says Foo Yong Ning, the founder of Coding Lab. “Coding provides our students with rich STEAM learning experiences and the space to embark on their own coding projects.
This enables students to take ownership of their own personal projects, learning responsibility and feeling a sense of connection with something that they have invested time and effort in.
Along the way, problems and possibly even failure are bound to be part of the coding journey, but it is these experiences that teach valuable lessons to everyone, and the eventual feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment make the journey feel worth it.”
Ultimately, the feelings of success and personal fulfilment are important to spur our children on to get engaged in STEAM learning and education to build a solid foundation for their future. By learning to code, these experiences nurture future leaders in technology and fully-literate 21st-century citizens.
(Written by Cheryl Tang)