12/04/2013 06:17 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2014

Closing the Global STEM Gap

Michael Hitoshi via Getty Images

The development of the silicon microchip in the mid-1900s gave rise to our current digital age, and the global economy has been heavily dependent on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) ever since. While European and Asian countries demonstrate their commitment to STEM through the stellar academic performance of their students in these fields, American teenagers once again find themselves lagging behind. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) recently released the results of their 2012 standardized tests, and they found that American 15-year-olds ranked 30th in math, 23rd in science and 20th in reading -- roughly the same results as 2009, the last time PISA conducted these tests.

So, in light of these disappointing results, the question becomes: How do we maintain our competitive edge in the century ahead? Clearly, there is work to be done in our educational system. But maybe more importantly, American culture needs to place a renewed emphasis on STEM and generate an excitement for science in young people that we haven't seen since the era of the space race. In short, we need to make STEM fun and fascinating again.

At Girl Scouts, fun and learning go hand in hand, and STEM activities are a crucial component of the programming we offer girls. Younger girls express high levels of interest in STEM, but that interest tapers off as girls reach the middle school and early high school years, and girls are often discouraged by society, both actively and passively, from pursuing their interest in these fields. By nurturing and encouraging girls' early interest in STEM and making it fun for them, we can keep them engaged, help them perform better in school and ultimately, encourage them to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Along with partners like AT&T and the Clinton Global Initiative, among others, Girl Scouts is committed to working with school systems to promote STEM learning, and our programs often complement classroom curricula. Our IMAGINE Your STEM Future series currently helps high school students explore STEM subjects, creating a hands-on experience that gives them the opportunity to discover new interests and develop new skills.

Exposing both girls and boys to STEM, early and often, is the easiest way to help facilitate their continued interest in these fields. Fostering an environment that encourages the exploration of STEM will help us close the global STEM skills gap and ensure that American students remain competitive in an increasingly digital and STEM-centered global environment.