By Lisa Maria Garza
DALLAS (Reuters) – At a time when U.S. educators urge greater emphasis on science and technology to ensure America’s competitiveness, it is ironic a Dallas-area teenager was arrested this week after staff mistook his homemade digital clock for a bomb.
Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was accused of making a hoax bomb on Monday, handcuffed and questioned, and received a three-day suspension from MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, for the clock he put together to impress his new classmates and teachers.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Mohamed is Muslim and the case serves as an example of the climate of hate and manufactured fear around the religion. A school district spokeswoman could not be reached to comment.
An official with Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a magnet school for high school students who excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), said Mohamed would be welcomed for his creativity. Mohamed has said he did not feel comfortable returning to MacArthur and may apply for a transfer to the academy.
“Many of the students and teachers would recognize what he’s doing and if he were in the lab, there would be zero problems with it,” assistant dean Brent Jones said. “I don’t think there would be that much excitement and he certainly wouldn’t be cuffed and arrested by those unfamiliar with the technology.”
Linda Rosen, chief executive of Change the Equation, a non-profit coalition of business leaders aimed at improving math, science and technology education, said those skills are increasingly needed in the job world. However, access to highly trained teachers is lacking across the country.
“The demand for STEM knowledge far outpaces the supply,” she said.
“In an increasingly complex world where we’re drenched with input and data, American millennials, despite the fact that they’re digital natives, don’t have the technological skills to make sense of this onslaught of information,” Rosen added.
In February, a Pew Research Center report found that only 29 percent of Americans rated their country’s K-12 education in STEM as above average or best in the world, while 16 percent of scientists polled felt the same. In fact, almost half those scientists felt it was below average.
The poor scores have long garnered the attention of politicians and educators, while corporate executives complain that a shortage of workers with strong math and science skills has forced them to look abroad for help.
After his arrest and the notoriety that followed, Mohamed was invited by President Obama to attend the White House’s astronomy night next month. The teen also has received an internship offer from Twitter, a ticket to Google’s Science Fair this weekend and an offer for a tour of Facebook headquarters from chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
A crowdfunding page set up by Dallas-area activists on LaunchGood had received nearly $13,000 in donations as of Friday afternoon to fund Mohamed’s education and a scholarship for other students pursuing STEM fields.
(Additional reporting by Marice Richter in Fort Worth, Texas, Editing by Ben Klayman and Andrew Hay)