Why “Unfinished Learning” was a Math Problem Long Before the Pandemic – Watch On-Demand Video Now

Math is an essential skill in the 21st century workforce

With 21st century jobs requiring more specialized math and science skills, employers have expressed concern about a skills gap in the workforce and hope that the issue can be addressed in American schools and thereby eradicated in the future.

"My frustration is you keep hearing about these unemployment numbers, but we have a very, very difficult time finding qualified people," Tammy Krings, the owner of an Ohio-based global travel business, told NBC News.

According to the International Center for Leadership in Education, the so-called "skills gap" resulted from a shift in the American economy from agrarian- and industrial-based businesses to those driven by information technology.

This means that for the workers of the future – the children sitting in classrooms today – having 21st century science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge will be essential, particularly because experts project that there will be a massive amount of growth in the need for skilled labor over the next 10 years.

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 8.5 million STEM-related jobs will exist in 2018, not including STEM individuals that are self-employed.

It all starts with elementary math. According to a survey from the technology company Raytheon, 60 percent of respondents believed math would be critical to the future success of their children. Currently, 60 percent of fourth graders and 66 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in mathematics.

In order to address the skills gap and ensure that today's students are prepared to meet the demands of the jobs of tomorrow, math teaching strategies may have to be adapted. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, many schools are already working to address this issue.

Developed by a group of teachers, parents, community leaders and education experts, the internationally benchmarked Common Core State Standards were designed to improve the college- and career-readiness of American students in the 21st century. So far, they have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

The Common Core math standards focus on addressing the skills gap by improving achievement in that subject area, and ensuring that students ultimately graduate from high school with 21st century math skills.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is working to support this mission, emphasizing that the value of a quality elementary math education will provide the foundational skills necessary for students to better understand the world that they live in.

"Employers and educators agree that changes in the global economy require that students entering college and the workforce leave the K-12 education system with an advanced level of proficiency in mathematics and a mastery of key mathematics concepts," the Partnership for 21st Century Skills explained.

The challenge for educators in the future will be to engage students in a way that helps them understand the true necessity of having the proper mathematical skills. Technology may prove to be an invaluable tool in achieving this goal.

Whatever approach educators choose to take, if American students graduate from high school and college with 21st century math skills, that can virtually be assured that a 21st century job will be waiting for them on the other end.

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