Path to diversity in STEM starts with education, opportunity

Beyond the Microscope | January 6, 2021

By Michaela Goss, Communications Volunteer

Just under half of K-12 schools nationwide have dedicated computer science curriculums, and that amount shrinks further for low-income students and students of color.

This is true for the majority of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, too, as students from marginalized backgrounds are less likely to have dedicated STEM curriculum or advanced placement STEM courses available to them. According to the Kapor Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to making the field of technology more diverse, students from marginalized communities are offered advanced STEM courses at a rate 12 times lower than students in more affluent schools.

Simply having the opportunity to take an advanced computer science course increases the likelihood of students entering a computer science career or studying computer science should they attend higher education, according to the Kapor Center. Students need the opportunity to see themselves in STEM roles in order to pursue those career paths, and the lack of that opportunity demonstrates an unfortunately common obstacle in low-income schools.

In addition, stereotypes about STEM – that only boys are good at science and math, that someone is a nerd if they like computer science – may also keep students from exploring STEM opportunities. Yet students without the ability to take STEM classes aren’t able to defy and de-stigmatize these subjects because the classes aren’t accessible to them and they can’t see themselves in an advanced STEM course, let alone career path.

Another barrier to low-income students and students of color seeing themselves in STEM roles is that television shows and movies often cast white or Asian men in stereotypically nerdy, technology-related roles, which unconsciously tells viewers – and highly susceptible children – that only people who look like that can be in those roles. This can diminish students’ desire to enter STEM even before they take a course or try it for themselves.

The lack of STEM courses isn’t solely an issue with schools lacking these class options. STEM courses can be costly; the schools need enough computers for their students, as well as science labs, sufficient internet connectivity, and experienced and qualified staff to teach the students – all issues the Kapor Center notes. Even after school programs dedicated to STEM education can be unaffordable for schools to host or for families to send students to outside of school, as most extracurricular programs cost money – although Kids In Tech does not.

An effective way to build a path to successful STEM careers for low-income students and students of color is to provide them with the opportunity to see themselves in these careers. To do that, the students need experience in STEM courses or, at least, a desire to learn more about STEM. Education and opportunity play critical roles in students’ growth, and one can lead to the other, which can only benefit students.

If schools aren’t able to create or nurture this desire in their students, then free, educational extracurricular programs like Kids In Tech can help provide students with a well-rounded STEM education in an accessible and affordable way.

Learn more about this topic in our upcoming Beyond the Microscope webinar “Building a Pathway for Diversity, Equity and Belonging in STEAM” on February 15.

Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/5216085686643/WN_H4FQhdhWT2mCYiVjjTDnsQ