Why Math is Now More Important than Ever for 21st Century Kids

Kids who are falling behind in the early grades tend to stay behind through high school
Kids who are falling behind in the early grades tend to stay behind through high school

In the next few decades, Americans will increasingly be competing with others around the world for jobs.  More and more 21st Century careers will require not just a college education, but also strong STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math).

During the last recession, millions of Americans became unemployed.  Layoffs, factory closings, and downsizings have now become routine.  Factory jobs are leaving the U.S. at an alarming rate because the American worker just cannot compete with people in low wage countries for those jobs.  Even clerical work, once easy to get, is now disappearing.  Because of changes in technology and many companies’ reluctance to hire support personnel, many employees now perform their own secretarial tasks.

More and more jobs are going overseas, and the trend shows no signs of slowing or stopping.  And, jobs that go overseas, go permanently.  By the time today’s kids are adults, there will probably certain categories of occupations that have left the country entirely – if they exist at all.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, those with the least education suffer the most unemployment.  A factory job that requires little education is easily moved overseas.  A position that requires an advanced degree is not so simple to fill in an impoverished country with a poor education system.  Clearly, in order to be recession resistant, you have to have a good education.

In this century, American workers with the most education will suffer the least unemployment.  In particular, new employment creation in the STEM category is expected to outpace other careers over the next decade –  growing 17 percent, versus 9.8 percent for lower technology positions.

But, research shows that U.S. students still rank well below many foreign competitors in the crucial areas of math and science. In fact, the World Economic Forum ranked this country 48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in the quality of math and science instruction.   Will our high tech work need to be done overseas next – much as our call centers are handled – because we will not be qualified to do it?  In order to ensure American competitiveness and prepare our children for tomorrow’s job market, we need to make sure today’s generation of children get a firm foundation in math and science, starting at a young age.

Getting elementary students grounded in STEM is important because studies show that kids who are falling behind in the early grades tend to stay behind through high school. And, because math builds on prior knowledge, many start 9th grade not prepared for high school level math classes. In fact, many start college still needing remedial help – a startling 60% of college eligible students require remedial help – which they have to pay college tuition for!

Math skills at academic entry level more strongly predict school achievement than reading skills – and are even more important than a child’s attention span! Early math skills even predict how well a child reads as late as 5th grade! In a recent test of math skills of 15-year-olds around the world, the U.S. ranked 35th out of 64 developed countries – behind other countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Singapore, Russia, and Spain.

Research has shown that the more parents of kindergarteners engage in math related activities with their children – such as board and card games – the better their math performance in 1st and 2nd grade. The good news is that math skills are learned through practice, and math knowledge is gained through experience. And, the best way for kids to learn is to play a game.

Further Reading: 6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child’s Math Skills

9 Great Picture Books to Help Your Child Learn Math


60% of Americans start college needing remedial help – for which they pay college tuition!


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