Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) play a crucial role in contributing to a nation’s global competitiveness and economic prosperity. Over the years, a great emphasis has been placed on STEM education at the high school level.
But how far have we come?
Based on a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 51% of all the high school-aged students participating revealed that they are not interested in pursuing a STEM career. Amongst the cited reasons, while 21% of the students stated that it is because they feel they are not good at school subjects in healthcare/science, 18% of the students revealed that they do not know enough about healthcare/science careers.
In addition to this, a recent White House report stated that based on data collected from a test commonly taken by college-bound high school students, they found that only 20% of U.S high school graduates are prepared for college-level coursework in STEM majors.
It is to keep in mind that these statistics are despite the recent reports by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019–29 that show that employment in STEM fields are projected to grow by 8.0% in 2029.
Amongst the STEM fields that are projected to grow, one of the fields that is expanding from purely laboratory-based science to becoming more data-driven is the field of biological sciences. Against the backdrop of this fast-paced field, a huge challenge is awaiting us – a lack of skilled biologists and bioinformaticians who can find solutions to significant research questions using computational tools and techniques.
But how does training at the high school level resolve this problem?
Need For Incorporating Bioinformatics Training In High Schools
Before we dive into the question. Let us briefly explore the topics:
What is bioinformatics? What are its applications? What is its present scenario?
To put it simply, bioinformatics is an emerging field of science that combines molecular biology, computer science, math, and statistics. The applications of bioinformatics are far and diverse, ranging from oncology, infectious diseases, neuroscience, agriculture, and even forensic science! As a fast-growing interdisciplinary field, bioinformatics will continue to evolve and present us with new applications and opportunities.
For instance, the global bioinformatics services market is expected to reach USD 3.53 Billion by 2023. Some of the key factors contributing to the growth of the market include rising funding for bioinformatics services and the increasing applications of bioinformatics in various industries. As stated previously, this growth will be met with a labor shortage of skilled biologists and bioinformaticians.
But how does training at the high school level resolve this problem?
There are several studies demonstrating the benefits of incorporating bioinformatics training at the high school level. For example, when students from Israel were provided with an opportunity to participate in activities similar to those performed by scientists using web-based research simulation in bioinformatics, it refined their understanding of genetic concepts. It also helped them understand the relationship between molecular mechanisms and phenotype.
In addition to this, researchers reported an improvement in the computational thinking skills of Indonesian high school students after training them in bioinformatics. This is an important outcome since computational thinking is a highly valuable skill set in the job market and has been labeled as “21st-century literacy”.
Further, the incorporation of online bioinformatics resources such as a web-based genetics education program developed for high school students in Alabama and Virginia served as a stimulus to foster student interest in careers in biological sciences.
Several other studies report the need for bioinformatics training for high school students. Some of these are old, others are new. Despite this, emphasis on the growing need for bioinformatics training in high school students remains valid to date.
In summary, by offering bioinformatics training at high school levels not only are we addressing the issue of labor shortage but also molding the next generation of skilled and competent biologists and bioinformaticians.
Current Initiatives In Bioinformatics Training For High School Students
While there are a couple of initiatives at present that aim to upskill high school students in the field of bioinformatics, here are some of the really great opportunities that the interested students can look into:
- GeneLab for High Schools: Growing the Next Generation of Scientists
This is a four-week intensive training program for high school students sponsored by NASA's Ames Research Center that provides students with an opportunity to immerse themselves in space life sciences with a specific focus on omics-based bioinformatics research, the science of collecting and analyzing complex biological data such as genetic codes, and computational biology. The program focuses on three core components: learning modules, networking, and research training competition.
This program will also help students to develop their educational and scientific skills including leadership, teamwork, data analysis, problem-solving, and independent learning.
For more details, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/ames/genelab-for-high-schools
- Bioinformatics Research and Big Data Analytics for Young Scholars
The program is offered by George Mason University and is designed for high school and biomedical undergrad students, who are interested in doing biology, medicine, biostatistics/informatics, mathematical modeling, and big-data analytics research with university faculties.
During the four-week of this program, students will be participating in a research project applying some of the following methods, including but not limited to biostatistics, system dynamics modeling, network analysis, discrete event simulation, and Markov modeling.
- OmicsLogic Bioinformatics International High School Training Programs
The program provides students an opportunity to learn from an international team of experts specialized in high school and undergraduate curriculums. As a part of the programs, students will receive access to OmicsLogic educational platforms, mentors, guided online sessions, technical support, and personalized training.
The students will also receive access to video tutorials, asynchronous material that comprises courses and example projects, assignments, and quizzes to check their learning as well as access to Code Omicslogic Playground for R and Python.
The training programs are currently offered in three main areas:
- Biomedical Data Science Using R & Python
This two-week online summer course is designed for high school students interested in data-driven research questions. The program will include aspects of data science, such as data wrangling, visualization, statistical analysis, and machine learning. The methods will be reviewed in the context of biomedical and other scientific problems students will study.
For more details, visit: https://learn.omicslogic.com/programs/high-school-biomedical-data-science-using-r-and-python
- Genomics in the Virtual Lab
In this online program, students will learn about genomics, sequence analysis, the relationship between sequence and function as well as computational biology methods.
After completing the 2-week program, students will gain a deeper understanding of the computational tools that allow scientists to study genomic data to understand genetic diseases and the way our DNA is a key to more personalized and precise medicine. The program includes 2-hour online lectures and hands-on exercises to provide a mix of theoretical and practical learning opportunities.
For more details, visit: https://learn.omicslogic.com/programs/high-school-genomics-in-the-virtual-lab
- Independent Research Projects
The research fellowship program is designed to provide support and guidance on the development of an independent research project within a given timeframe (3-6 months). During this time, participants meet on a weekly basis to share their progress and get feedback from the program coordinators. They can also request one-on-one sessions with a mentor on a weekly basis or meet in smaller focus groups.
- A systematic review of STEM education research in the GCC countries: trends, gaps and barriers - https://stemeducationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40594-021-00319-7
- Minorities Represent Largest Sector Not Interested In Pursuing STEM Careers - https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/minorities-represent-largest-sector-not-interested-in-pursuing-stem-careers-171180521.html
- America’s STEM Crisis Threatens Our National Security - https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2019/02/americas-stem-crisis-threatens-our-national-security/
- The state of STEM education told through 22 stats - https://www.idtech.com/blog/stem-education-statistics
- The global bioinformatics services market is projected to reach USD 3.53 billion by 2023 from USD 1.70 million in 2018, at a CAGR of 15.7% - https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-global-bioinformatics-services-market-is-projected-to-reach-usd-3-53-billion-by-2023-from-usd-1-70-million-in-2018--at-a-cagr-of-15-7-300638115.html
- The Impact of a Web-Based Research Simulation in Bioinformatics on Students’ Understanding of Genetics - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11165-008-9101-1
- The Effect of Bioinformatics Module on Molecular Genetics Concepts on Senior High School Students' Computational Thinking Skills - https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1328112
- Demystifying computational thinking - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1747938X17300350
- A web-based genetic polymorphism learning approach for high school students and science teachers - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21638628/
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