From STEM, to STEAM, to STREAM? The importance of ethics in today’s society

From STEM, to STEAM, to STREAM? The importance of ethics in today’s society

12 February 2021

For some time now we have all grown accustomed to hearing of the importance of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), and more recently STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics). Is it time we now considered STREAM?

As Artificial Intelligence, the use of robotics, and technology has increased ten-fold, our society has become more dehumanised in terms of our interactions. Not only due to the increase of these developments, but even more so as we hear we may be social distancing for some time to come. I have recently started to argue that, in fact, we need to move to STREAM. We need to add Religious Studies, – the study of philosophy of religion and ethics – into this area as equal weighting.

Despite traditionally an area considered as a Humanities subject, it is argued that it falls more into the Social Sciences. By adding in the ‘R’ of Religious Studies, we are recognising the importance of ethics that underpins how we practice STEAM. Why should this be of any consequence? Well, ethics ensure we are rooted by a moral compass. Ethics serve as a guide to our morality as we live our daily lives, and the establishment of rules, principles and values on which we can base our conduct. In brief, it helps us judge if our behaviour can be justified. Without balancing advancements in STEAM, and how we employ these advancements with an ethical argument then we are surely sleepwalking into a future where we only consider the ‘could we?’, rather than the ‘should we’?

An example of morality coming into play with how science evolves is that of gender selection, where couples can chose the gender of their unborn baby thanks to advanced genetic techniques. Several nations, including Australia, Canada, China, India and the UK have banned the use of sex selection technologies, but others, including the USA, have deemed it a legal practice. But should science be allowed to interfere with nature to the extent that you can choose your child’s gender? Or, should a couple be allowed to use science to select the gender of the baby they have together? Without an ethical starting point, these decisions become a lot harder to be considered to balance all viewpoints.

A further example could be applied in business. Do we want to live in a world where profit is king? Maximising stockholder value is a clear principle of business, but the pursuit of profit alone has caused many corporate scandals. Without a sense of moral authority, you risk making cynical calculations about reputational damage: what is more harmful to my business, a supply chain that depends on sweatshop labour or higher standards which lead to a price point beyond the reach of my customers? There is always much more to consider than money, and Religious Studies can offer the tools to shape the bigger picture: what type of world do we want to live in?

We often find prospective families on their tours of St Mary’s ask a lot of questions on our religious and ethical standpoint. We are a Catholic school, founded by Mary Ward and deeply rooted in our history and sometimes there is concern about this, understandably given many are not from a family where they practice a religion. However, at St Mary’s we see the value in our everyday interactions with our girls of teaching ethics – from our Junior School girls right up to our Sixth Form community where PER (Philosophy, Ethics and Religion) continue to be taught alongside their A Levels of choice.

We see our girls form their own views of the world we live in, they debate fiercely on modern-day issues and it is rare to ever find a St Mary’s girl who does not have something to say of worth when discussing politics or ethical challenges. We encourage and applaud this in all our girls and they leave our School with a sense of their own individuality, as strong independent women with their own moral compasses and their own fully-fledged ideas on how to change things for the better.

Some might say that by adding the ‘R’ to STREAM, we are weakening the focus on STEM or Art subjects – as the original intention was to raise the profile of these subjects within schools, building towards a future workforce skilled in these areas. However, I feel the positives that ‘R’ add will only strengthen and guide our application of these subjects – bringing positive benefits to the direction of human progress. But, as the Headmistresses of St Mary’s School as you can imagine I like a good debate, and am willing to be challenged on my viewpoint…


Charlotte Avery, Headmistress, St Mary’s School Cambridge

Member Zone

Lost your password?
Find a school Login