STEM Education and Globalization: How Do Our Young Adults Shape Up in a Globalized Technological World?

By Paul F. Renda

November 7, 2022

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) [1]  has developed a framework to assess how well adults and young adults perform Problem Solving in a Technologically Rich Environment (PSTRE) [2]. One part of the OECD is the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) [3].  From the Internet to artificial intelligence and neural networks, we are surrounded by technology.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) jobs are the highest-paying jobs available [4] and can provide an avenue for entering the upper middle class. This high remediation of wages is especially attractive because the middle class purchasing power has not increased had a raise in in 40 years. Figure 1 shows purchasing power for the past 40 years. 

Figure 1 [5]

The problem with talking about STEM or, for that matter, any type of technological capability is how to quantify it. How do you define it on an international basis of how students and the general public perform? A simple example is one person being able to code and print out “HELLO WORLD,” while another individual can code a program with a multidimensional array and sort the variables by their standard deviations. Both individuals can code; however, they have massive differences in their capabilities. So, how does one measure somebody’s capabilities in the increasingly complex STEM-based technological world?  

The PIAAC has developed a solution to this problem, an assessment referred to as PSTRE [6],  illustrated in Figure 2. 

Figure 2 [7]

Figure 3 shows the scores for the PIAAC [8] test for PSTRE for adults aged 16 to 65. While Japan had the highest score of 294, the United States scored 277. This score is basic level 1  ( definition from figure 2). It’s hard to believe that a handful of American boys created Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Google. How can the majority of US citizens be so far behind? Remember, Japan and Finland are at the top of the list. 

Figure 3 [9]

Figure 4 shows that US students score at the bottom of international test results for 17-year-olds taking courses in algebra [10].  As with the scores for PSTRE, Japan and Finland have among the highest scores related to algebra. There is a correlation between how well students do in algebra and how well they do in PSTRE [11] and, by extension, their ability to have high-paying jobs in the future. You should not infer from the chart that people going to college are the most technologically sophisticated. A number of the founders of the previously mentioned PSTRE companies were college dropouts. A myth about technological sophistication in this digital age is that if you teach young kids coding, they will work in PSTRE; however, various publications [12] have shown that this is incorrect. Coding does not teach problem solving.

Figure 4 [13]

Figure 5 shows digital skill levels among employed youth ages 16–24 by race. Only 3% of white youth aged 16 to 24 scored at the advanced applied digital skills level (3 definition from figure 2). At level 2, the percentage is 46%. This level is most likely the skill level needed in today’s factories and offices because of written procedures on how the work needed to be done( at level 2 definition “Can use tools to solve a problem where the criteria to be met are explicit). 

Figure 5 from the Urban Institute [14], based on PIAAC

The online magazine Quillette published an article titled “As US schools prioritize diversity over Merit, China is becoming the world STEM leader” [15].  This article references a chart from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is also part of the OECD. The PISA measures 15-year-old students’ achievement in math, reading, and science [16]. Notice that China’s four cities have the highest scores  (from the report only 4 cities were tested). The chart is reproduced in Figure 6.

Figure 6 [17]


It’s hard to be optimistic. Only 3% of white young adults in America can work at the highest level of technically complex jobs  . For African Americans, it’s 0%. US citizens aged 16 to 65 score at a low basic level of 1 in PSTRE.  

One inference from figure 1 and  figure 5 is that the living standard will be very challenged for the  US middle class.


This article is dedicated to my father, Tom Renda. He just passed at 97. He was a member of the 4th Infantry Division which played a large role in World War II, as it was chosen to spearhead operations on D-Day, the day Allied forces invaded the beaches of Normandy. Please note the Purple Heart and the D-Day Operation Overlord medal. 

Image provided by author



















[17] Ibid. 

About the Author

Paul F. Renda has spent over 30 years in information security. He has spoken at a number of above-ground and below-ground hacker conferences. He studied physics and math at Queens College and the University of Houston, and he has worked as a system administrator for IBM Z/OS and Linux systems. He was also recruited (recruited is a nice, friendly way to put it) by the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force to provide open-source high-impact information. The Russian Federation and the Department of Defense also wanted to become Paul’s friend. He declined the friendship overture from the Russian Federation.