The New Normal: STEAM education can help to design for change

We are standing at the beginning of the 4th industrial revolution where the skilled workforce is crucial to beat coronavirus pandemic. When already we are facing the challenges of the 21st-century to build our human capital for future change, the coronavirus pandemic brings the most critical challenges to adopt with The New Normal. Creative ideas and innovation can find a better solution like producing an effective way of hand sanitizer to maintain hygiene, one of the demanding product right now. A young nursing student Lupe Hernandez first came up with the idea of hand sanitizer back in 1966. She noticed alcohol delivered through a gel could clean hands in a situation where there was no soap and warm water available. We are now looking for the ideal way of development strategy to adjust with The New Normal instead of slowing down the progress.

Science, technology, and innovation are the cutting edges to reduce poverty and economic development for achieving Sustainable development goals (SDGs). 2019 was an important year for the SDGs. That was the first detailed review of progress on the 2030 Agenda since the SDGs implementation started in 2016. When the global experts were reworking to achieve the SDGs by 2030 with a big ambition of “leave no one behind”, the year 2020 woefully started with the alarm of COVID-19. It has changed the skyline of development, innovation, and growth, where survival becomes the priority of every nation. Suddenly everything changed, and it will never be like as it was before. We are at the phase of New Normal, where the lifestyle has changed to respond to demands coping up with this global crisis. Work from home, communicate with various teleconferencing software platforms, online classes, online shops bringing the world on a small screen, and staying 24 hours under the same roof is not easy for everyone. It varies from person to person, depending on their socio-economic condition. The global supply chain breakdown and the basic needs of food, health, education, works are changing the trend leaving the lives of vulnerable people at risk.

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According to the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s latest data on labour market impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the devastating effect on workers in the informal economy. More than 436 million enterprises face high risks of serious disruption in worldwide. These enterprises are operating in the forthright economic sectors, including 232 million in wholesale and retail, 111 million in manufacturing, 51 million in accommodation and food services, and 42 million in real estate and other business activities. The pandemic is causing a terrible effect on education. The UNESCO COVID-19 Impact on Education recent data shows, more than 1.1 billion children and youth to be out of school in 144 countries. It is close to 67% of the world’s enrolled students. It has serious consequences on society and the economy; mostly low-income people will suffer extremely. The ILO warns nearly half of the global workforce is in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed by this pandemic. “For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security, and no future”, said Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General.

The current challenge for the majority of the people in the world is work and income to feed themselves. Need urgent policy measures for a short term and long-term framework to find a better solution for this serious issue. It is a big challenge to take immediate action which will not impact on downturn the sustainable development. Already the environment damaged enough for exploitation, millions of people are suffering from climate change, and the future environmental ecosystem is in threat for more pandemic and disaster. Immediately, we have to take action for change to build a better world without exploiting the environment and ensure decent works for people. Education, knowledge, and an entrepreneurial mindset can create more jobs and run the economy for sustainable development.

Adam Smith suggests that “improving human capital through training and education leads to a more profitable enterprise, which adds to the collective wealth of society.” The definition of human capital is “the knowledge, skills, competencies, and attributes embodied in individuals that facilitate the creation of personal, social, and economic well-being.” (OECD, 2001). According to Gray S. Becker, “education, training, and health are the most important investments in human capital.” Investment in education has a huge return like create employment, reduce poverty, and most importantly bring equity in society. People can think critically and creatively, which solve the problems smartly and contribute to the continual development process. These skills are assets like human capital. It is an intangible quality or asset classified as the economic value of a person with knowledge, experiences, and skills in the workforce.

Right now, we need an education system that guides the students in developing a humanistic vision of the 21st-century labour force. The STEAM education method engages students in integrated ways to understand the problems, critical knowing, and analysis for better action. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Liberal Arts, and Maths. It connects all the different subjects for critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, which brings reality into the classroom. Innovative ideas can solve difficult problems with limited resources. William Kamkwamba’s windmill in Africa is one of a great example of that. With very limited resources and supports, he built the windmill to save his village from famine. Except for this current emergency of COVID 19, we already have serious challenges to ensure access to clean water, sanitation, and health care for millions of people, who are in a vulnerable situation. Anyway, we have to be optimistic and innovative to find a better solution for these critical problems to feed the millions of people and run the economy to continue the sustainable development.

Today demands are increasing of those skilled people who have advanced cognitive and socio-behavioral skills. The changing nature of work and the post-COVID New Normal can lead to learn the necessary skills for surviving in the job market and also make an entry of the diverse workforce. To build an inclusive work environment, we must develop human resources for productivity and economic growth. The World Bank has a Human Capital Project (HCP) to identify the human capital index, measurement, and research to develop the areas where the individual countries need to focus and take the right programs for human capital development globally for future of works and sustainable growth. As well, to reduce poverty, inequality, social injustices and ensure equity in society, government and other significant stakeholders should focus on human capital development. Undeniably, quality education is one of the significant elements for human capital development and design for change. And for this adequate education, need STEAM learning to develop critical thinking and innovative ideas for finding a better solution at the right time.

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Naiyer Fatema

Naiyer Fatema is a financial inclusion specialist and women economic empowerment activist. She experienced working with the financial organizations in Bangladesh and designed some financial products for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SME). She is a business graduate and a Masters in Development Studies (MDS). Currently, she facilitates programs in Digital Spaces in Adelaide to support communities taking the advantage of emerging technologies and new opportunities. Naiyer is an International Exchange Alumni of the U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and a member of the Development Network, New Zealand.
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