Two family and consumer science professors from Texas Tech are in Malta this week for the annual convention of FCS educators.
As the demand for family and consumer science classes increases in secondary schools throughout the nation, more and more schools are cutting back on those very classes.
The reason is simple: there are not enough teachers to fill the need.
"The demand for courses is very high, especially here in Texas, so much that we have an exacerbated shortage," said Karen Alexander, the program director for Texas Tech University's Family and Consumer Sciences Education (FCS) Program.
Schools are focusing more on life skills, including personal financial planning, nutrition and child development and career-oriented classes, like culinary arts, interior design, teaching and mental health counseling, which fits into the FCS collection of literacies.
"When you're teaching young people about essential life skills, hopefully you're teaching them to become well-equipped to change their lives," Alexander said.
Alexander and fellow FCS professor Roxie Godfrey are in Malta, a small island nation off the coast of Italy, for the International Federation for Home Economics annual meeting, which takes place around World Home Economics Day on March 20. They're presenting research on integrating technology into home economics education and sharing ideas with their peers from throughout the world.
Globally, the profession is still called home economics. In the early 1990s, programs in the United States changed to FCS to highlight the scientific nature of the profession and that the skills being taught are necessary life skills for all people. These include budgeting, nutrition, human development, relationships and much more.
"In our classes you need to know it because it's life," Alexander said.
FCS is based in physical and social sciences. Ellen Swallow Richards, the founder of the profession, was a trained chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first to apply chemistry to nutrition.
A century ago home economics was a ticket to higher education for many women, and one of the first majors at Texas Tech. Students with a home economics degree had as much science as a high school science teacher.
"One of the other things you need to remember is that in the time period when the profession was founded, there really were not a lot of occupational opportunities for women," Alexander said. "There were not even educational opportunities for women."
In the 1950s, the perception around family and consumer sciences shifted. For many, it was seen as a degree for women who wanted to go to college, get married and stay home. They needed skills to feed and clothe their families and raise their children.
While those skills have always been taught in home economics – a family and consumer sciences degree today includes food and nutrition, child development, textiles and much more – it is the knowledge of real life, Alexander said.
The profession also is attracting more men. While the secondary school classes are divided fairly evenly between boys and girls, Alexander said traditionally women leaned more toward FCS than men. In recent years more men are enrolling in collegiate programs. She has a master's student in the program now who was a middle school football coach who wanted to teach FCS courses.
"He felt so strongly that there were a lot of kids who needed a male role model who took an interest in these areas and modeled good parenting practices, communication and healthy eating," she said. "It's always interesting to say we've got a guy out there who teaches FCS and is one of the district's football coaches. That kind of catches people off guard sometimes because they don't necessarily think about that."
Reaching the Rest of the World
The presentation Alexander and Godfrey are giving in Malta relates to the use of technology in FCS education. Godfrey's research looks into how mobile technologies are used in secondary and tertiary programs throughout the world. Identifying attitudes and perceptions of technology use by FCS educators worldwide can help understand advantages and barriers to integrating mobile technologies in the FCS curriculum.
Godfrey became interested in mobile technologies simultaneously with her interest in global FCS education and found the two went well together. She asked educators from other countries how they used technology and got answers ranging from not using it at all to not knowing how to integrate technology in their classes.
She describes mobile technologies as an education tool that can build collaboration among students, enhance communication skills, expand problem solving and develop creative thinking skills.
Godfrey, a student teacher supervisor, uses mobile technologies in her courses and recently observed one of her student teachers using social media in a learning activity for analyzing the importance of marketing in a fashion design class. In groups, the assignment was to develop a one-minute message for a particular brand using a particular social media. Each group presented their message to the rest of the class, with the explanation of why the message was developed and how effective they thought it would be. At the end of class, the students realized the importance of the one-minute message using social media in marketing.
"There are so many things we can do with technology," Godfrey said.
She plans to develop FCS mobile learning curriculum with project-based learning and share with teachers and administrators the importance of how FCS and mobile technologies go hand in hand.
"These are educational tools, they're not just mobile phones," Godfrey said. "There are so many ways to use these in our FCS classrooms."