A harmonious nation

April 14, 2024

Embracing STEAM/ STREAM education holds immense promise for the future

Elemental - 2017 by Nicholas Felton. — Image courtsey Nicholas Felton
Elemental - 2017 by Nicholas Felton. — Image courtsey Nicholas Felton


TEM, STEAM and STREAM: a contemporary creative practitioner, as a poetry enthusiast with some worldbuilding aspirations, might translate these acronyms allegorically to the stem of a leaf, flower, plant or tree; steam formed by the heating of water by fire; and stream, as a perfect watercourse for a trout to swim in. This is simply enjoying the beauty of poetry and prose and the imagination it nurtures.

The new terms related to educational frameworks that have been floating around recently, might confuse the general public, particularly young parents. STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — emphasises providing a strong foundation for pupils to think productively. STEAM integrates STEM with the arts (A), emphasising creativity and interdisciplinary connections. It encourages critical thinking and comprehensive learning via artistic expression. STREAM develops reading and writing (R) abilities in addition to technical knowledge by integrating them into STEM subjects. This emphasises how vital communication and understanding skills are in STEM fields, all of which contribute to a well-rounded education for today’s students to turn into future doctors, scientists, business personnel or creative practitioners.

A catalyst for innovation in Pakistan, the global pursuit of fostering innovation and addressing complex challenges, the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), has become a cornerstone of educational discourse in recent years in accordance with the global change in curriculum structures. This is the education system’s response to technology giants like Google, Meta and Microsoft. These blue-chip players define these parameters to prepare future task forces for a rapidly evolving technological landscape, with robust skills in artificial intelligence to deal with big data, augmented- and virtual-reality realms, robotics and beyond. However, an expanded vision is also necessary for real progress and development; therefore, Google Arts and Culture is becoming popular alongside the significant investment in user experience design (UX) by all the top-notch technology companies. Unlike the traditional STEM framework, the STEAM/ STREAM educational framework advocates a holistic approach to learning and problem-solving.

In the context of Pakistan, a nation poised for transformative growth, embracing STEAM/ STREAM education holds immense promise for nurturing a generation of creative thinkers, innovators and problem-solvers. There is no shortage of ideas in this incredibly diverse world where we live and encounter new problems every day.

Students are encouraged to think creatively, investigate many viewpoints and use inventive talents through STEAM/ STREAM education. Integrating arts into education will be harmonious with the socio-cultural setting of Pakistan, a nation rich in artistic traditions and cultural legacy. Pakistan may leverage its cultural variety to catalyse creativity and innovation by adopting STEAM/ STREAM education. In a world that is becoming more connected, artistic expression boosts creativity and cultivates empathy, communication and emotional intelligence. STEAM/ STREAM education also encourages transdisciplinary learning, dismantling the boundaries between various academic disciplines. This integrative method is precious in Pakistan, where complex problems frequently call for multiple approaches to solve them.

High Line, New York.
High Line, New York.

In several case studies, the STEAM/ STREAM frameworks have proven more successful than conventional STEM approaches. Re-examining and evaluating projects that employed the shared aspirations from art, design and architecture is the vision of an academic who teaches design and curates public exhibitions to utilise communication design to change society. One such striking project is the High Line in New York City. It was once a deserted railroad track. Architects, landscape designers, engineers and artists collaborated to convert the High Line into a bustling public park. The project transformed the area and produced a distinctive cultural landmark that represents the varied interests and viewpoints of the community by fusing traditional engineering and architectural features with artistic elements like sculpture, murals and performance spaces.

Another excellent example is the graphical project Elemental by designer, entrepreneur and artist Nicholas Felton. Felton’s goal is to transform everyday data into meaningful objects and experiences. All 118 known elements are being portrayed in three dimensions as part of the continuing Elemental Project. Learning new drawing skills is necessary to illustrate gases, liquids and solids within the restrictions of the table, paying particular attention to the minute details that set each element apart. One wishes that this self-explanatory, engaging information can be incorporated into the early years of science books so that children can start exploring the visual power of elements — more accessible in terms of visuality and materiality.

The United Kingdom’s contribution to Expo 2020 Dubai was a wooden sculpture highlighting Britain as a cross-cultural meeting point and celebrating cultural variety and collaboration. The Poem Pavilion, designed by artist and designer Es Devlin, converted visitor input into group poetry using sophisticated machine-learning algorithms. The pavilion became the exhibit when the latter was read through bright displays on the façade.

The impact of arts on the society in the Pakistani context has been substantial yet undermined. Literary festivals, exhibitions, Lahore/ Karachi Biennales, art/ design summits and various festivals which recently attracted large number of people are all due to the relentless efforts of academics, thinkers, movers and shakers from the arts and cultural backgrounds. These public events have helped develop a layer of tolerance, open-mindedness and willingness for a better and just society. Such interests/ activities never stopped an individual or organisation from prospering in their STEM pursuits.

Case studies have shown that incorporating the arts, reading and writing into STEM professions may produce more creative, comprehensive and long-lasting solutions to challenging problems in various sectors. By adopting the STEAM/ STREAM frameworks, Pakistani schools, universities and organisations may open new avenues for influence, innovation and cooperation, ultimately leading to beneficial social transformation.

The writer is an art/ design critic. He heads the Department of Visual Communication Design at Mariam Dawood School of Visual Arts and Design, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

A harmonious nation