STEM is one of the most rewarding career paths available today. It’s a fast-growing field packed full of opportunities and high-paying jobs, and will almost undoubtedly continue to grow in scope and importance in the years to come.
For young learners with a passion for math and science, the future is extremely bright. However, while some students have plenty of support, guidance, and encouragement as they begin their STEM journey, many others are less fortunate.
In spite of the proliferation of STEM careers and fields of study, we continue to face persistent challenges in ensuring that these opportunities are available to all students. According to recent data from the 2009 administration of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) the average mathematics scores for 17-year-olds have been essentially flat since 1973.
Even more concerning, the difference in average NAEP mathematics scores between white and Black and white and Hispanice 9- and 13-year-olds is between 17 and 28 points. Too few students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, are being put on a pathway in which they are able to achieve at high levels.
In this post, we’ll take a look at why this “opportunity gap” exists. We’ll also explain why it’s so important to do whatever we can to close it, ensuring students from all backgrounds are encouraged and empowered to be part of the STEM field.
The STEM opportunity gap
You might have heard the phrase “achievement gap” to refer to the way students from certain backgrounds and demographics tend to perform better or worse than others.
Like many others in the educational community, we prefer to use the term “opportunity gap” instead, because we think “achievement gap” places the responsibility for this situation on the students. In reality, certain demographic groups often struggle in academic life not through any fault of their own but because they have been denied important opportunities.
The origins of the STEM opportunity gap can be seen at many levels of our education system. Examples include low levels of school funding in certain areas, low household income preventing students from accessing learning materials at home, inconsistent teaching programs, and more.
Unfortunately, these issues often occur in areas with a higher population of students of color. This adds to the wide range of historical, economic, and racial disadvantages facing these student groups.
It’s not something we can solve overnight, but there is still a lot that educators can do to make STEM more inclusive and encourage young learners from all backgrounds to pursue subjects in science and math.
Why we need to make STEM more inclusive
The STEM field has exploded in size over the last few decades. STEM employment has grown by 79% since 1990, and computer jobs have grown by 338% during that same period.
And, STEM careers don’t just have higher salaries compared to other jobs — they’re also seeing more rapid salary growth. According to the Winter Salary Survey by NACE, starting salaries in STEM fields like engineering, computer science, and math are growing much faster than other career fields like social sciences.
This means that those students who are able to pursue STEM can look forward to a future where they will increasingly earn more money (on average) than those who choose other careers.
Students who are not provided with the opportunities that allow them to access STEM careers, are shut out of valuable opportunities. When these opportunities are denied, all too often along racial, ethnic and socio-economic lines, existing and already troubling income gaps grow wider.
By failing to give students from all backgrounds the opportunity to succeed in STEM, we as a society are contributing to these ever-widening income gaps.
Why we need to supplement STEM learning
To give every student the means to succeed in STEM, we need to think about ways to supplement their learning and provide the “just-in-time supports” that will allow them to access grade-level material.
According to Nova Southeastern University, “Supplemental materials can provide instructors a way to fill in perceived gaps within the prescribed instructional materials and can offer instructors additional approaches to motivate students. Complementary supplemental learning materials can also aid instructors with meeting the diverse needs of all learners.“
At Yup, that’s our goal. Our platform helps connect students with tutors for on-demand learning. This helps fill in what they might have missed in the classroom, allowing students from all backgrounds to access rich educational resources, guidance, and support.
By supplementing traditional classroom learning with extra one-on-one support, driven by technology, we hope to level the playing field in STEM and allow a more diverse range of students to start thriving in these subjects and career paths.