Coming to a classroom near you... Stem soldiers

Maryland's military partnership

Be it on a recruitment drive or to talk about their work, army officers occasionally venture on to school grounds. Imagine, however, the constant presence of soldiers in your school: it immediately conjures images of muddy assault courses, angry commanders barking orders and crying children.

However, Frederick County Public Schools, in Maryland, US, has found a much more educational use for troops in its 64 schools.

The schools body has teamed up with the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), based at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to give its science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) teaching a boost. The USAMRMC conducts medical research, development, acquisition and logistics management for the US Army.

On its part, the USAMRMC will be lending equipment and personnel to the schools, while students will be able to receive credit for work on defence research projects. The subject of these projects is yet to be confirmed but, especially in the light of heightened cautiousness in the US intelligence services after the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden revelations, it is unlikely to involve high-security clearance.

Michael Doerrer, Frederick County Public Schools communications director, says it will be worthwhile nonetheless: "Our students are extremely fortunate to live in a national hub for science and technology and to be able to work so closely with generous and committed partners like USAMRMC."

The particulars of the arrangement are still in development. "We have only a broad framework for the partnership at the moment," Doerrer says. "It will take time for us to understand how this is going to work. In the end, it's up to how many resources and how much of their time they are willing to give. But this will not be a temporary partnership."

Part of the thinking behind the project is to inspire students through real-life applications of knowledge gained in Stem subjects. It will also give schools access to information and resources that are outside their remit or budget.

But could similar schemes be set up elsewhere in the world, away from the lavishly funded and widely supported US Army? In the UK, defence cuts mean that there are unlikely to be any spare resources, but in nations such as China, military spending is still significant, and so a helping hand from the armed forces to schools may not be too much of a stretch.

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