With each new year comes new year resolutions. Whether it’s to spend more time together as a family, eat a little healthier or try something new, we here at ParentsCanada think that new ways to learn should also make the list. We had the chance to sit down with President and CEO of Actua, Jennifer Flanagan, to talk about the new ways kids can learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and why it’s important now more than ever.
ParentsCanada: For those who don’t know, tell us a little bit more about ACTUA.
Jennifer Flanagan: Actua is a national charity that is preparing youth to be innovators and leaders by engaging them in exciting and accessible STEM experiences that build critical skills and confidence. Actua reaches youth through two main mechanisms: a national network of 35 university and college-based members, and a national Outreach Team. Together we inspire over 250,000 youth every year, reaching every province and territory in Canada through the delivery of summer camps, classroom workshops, clubs, and community outreach activities.
PC: Why do you think it’s so important for kids to embrace an interest in STEM?
JF: I think it’s essential for youth to have science and tech knowledge because it’s a great economic workforce to be a part of. These skills are important for every career path, like problem solving and creativity. It’s not just about kids being scientists; it’s about preparing them for jobs that may exist in the future, and helping them to see what they’re learning in school can be relevant later in life.
PC: In an age where kids can just Google everything, how can parents make it fun for kids to learn about STEM?
JF: Right now tech is so ubiquitous and just because kids can use it, it doesn’t mean they fully understand it. I think kids will need to learn all about the behind-the-scenes regarding science and technology. Parents need to encourage their kids to experience more open-ended toys and learning techniques. Here are just a few games that kids can use to help with learning while still having fun. We also work with parents to advocate at the school level.
PC: What is the one important lesson you hope that parents take away from ACTUA’s commitment to learning?
JF: We want to share with parents that they can look out for learning experiences outside of school with more science and technology in order to develop their child’s skills. There are still many who think learning only happens inside school but it doesn’t have to.
PC: What inspired you to ensure that Canadian youth have access to STEM learning?
JF: Personally, knowing that science and technology are foundational skills is one side, but also knowing that there are big groups of people missing from STEM areas also inspires me to change that. There’s a lack of diversity in these fields (very few women or Indigenous people) so I firmly believe that this change needs to start with young children. And I’m committed to making that change a reality.