STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications. By cultivating an interest in the natural and social sciences in preschool or immediately following school entry, the chances of STEM success in high school can be greatly improved.

In the United States, the acronym began to be used in education and immigration debates in initiatives to begin to address the perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs. It also addresses concern that the subjects are often taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum.

Maintaining a citizenry that is well versed in the STEM fields is a key portion of the public education agenda of the United States. The acronym has been widely used in the immigration debate regarding access to United States work visas for immigrants who are skilled in these fields.

This version of the term is accredited to Texas. It has also become commonplace in education discussions as a reference to the shortage of skilled workers and inadequate education in these areas. The term tends not to refer to the non-professional sectors of the fields that remain more invisible such as electronics assembly line work, for example.