The Lancet, a leading medical journal, recently reported that the number of people 60 and older will outnumber children younger than 5 by 2020. In response, the World Health Organization issued a call to action for governments to begin preparing for the growing burden that the aging population will place on national health systems.
An often-overlooked factor in caring for the 76 million aging baby boomers in the United States is the quality of science education for today’s students – the future of medicine.
New scientific discoveries take place daily, and classroom education must keep up with these advances if our students are going to maintain the pace of tremendous innovation seen in the past century. During boomers’ lifetimes alone, medical advances have eradicated diseases that were once at epidemic levels in the U.S. and addressed physical impediments that earlier generations left to luck. These innovations would not have been possible without talented, dedicated scientists from all backgrounds – biology, chemistry, genetics and especially engineering.
At the National Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research (CIBOR), we work across multiple scientific and engineering disciplines to study materials and devices that will enhance medical care for those with orthopaedic ailments and issues. Engineers work with biologists and biocompatibility specialists to identify new materials and designs for devices that enhance the body’s abilities when suffering from diseases such as arthritis. The future of health care in our nation will depend on continued collaboration of this kind.
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However, budding scientists are stuck in science-class silos that don’t recognize the collaborative and creative nature of these fields. Education does not operate in a vacuum. When engaged properly in the learning process, our students thrive and develop novel ideas that they can put into practice. I see this happening with students at Wichita State University and when I visit local K-12 classrooms to speak about bioengineering and its relationship to the aviation industry – required learning for children living in the Air Capital of the World.
Advances made at CIBOR and other scientific research institutions will continue only as long as we have strong science education in our schools. Science education that fuels the creativity and interest of young scientists across all scientific disciplines is the key to our future success and well-being. I am honored to have contributed to the development of the Next Generation Science Standards, and I find it encouraging to see Kansas continue its commitment to science education through adoption of the NGSS.
Kansas is well-positioned to remain a leader in science education and continue to produce top-notch graduates who will lead the medical science industry to its next frontiers. As we heed the WHO’s call to prepare for a major shift in our population, a high-quality science education for our students is essential to caring for our families and maintaining a healthy, active society.
Paul H. Wooley is chief science officer at the National Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research in Wichita.