Now more than ever, receiving a high-quality education rich in mathematics and sciences provides a solid foundation for opportunity in the workforce.
In fact, by 2020, almost two-thirds of all jobs will require postsecondary training, especially training that emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving skills that most students acquire from taking math and science courses.
“Today’s job market demands workers to have a strong grounding in STEM” writes Pam Buffington for the Education Development Center. “Technological literacy is key to workforce success, as are the kinds of critical thinking and problem-solving skills that students master as they engage in challenging mathematics learning, inquiry-based science explorations, and hands-on tinkering with engineering.”
Buffington’s ideas are backed by government data.
“The U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, the government agency that keeps track of numbers on job growth and related topics, notes that employment in STEM-related jobs grew at a much more rapid rate from 2005 to 2015 than employment in non-STEM positions” note the experts at Maryville University. “These numbers indicate that the rate of employment growth for jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields during that decade was 24.4 percent, as opposed to a 4.1 percent growth rate in other jobs. The department expects that STEM jobs will continue to grow at a rate of 8.9 percent over the next decade.”
Though this has been common knowledge for some time, as a nation, access to higher quality education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has been distributed in an alarmingly uneven way. Millions of students across the country exist in STEM deserts — meaning they lack access to rigorous and engaging math and science courses.
It’s something we should be collectively paying more attention to, as lack of access to this kind of education has a number of potential consequences. Not only is having access to STEM courses a matter of educational equity, but also could take a toll on the country’s ability to remain competitive in the global technological community, the economy, and national security.
What may be most surprising about the epidemic is how closely tied access to education in these fields is connected to your children’s zip codes. Those who live in rural areas may have a particularly difficult time accessing quality curriculum to help them succeed. In some areas of the country, families could shop at the same grocery store but have vastly different educational opportunities at their children’s’ schools.
Nearly half of all U.S. public school districts are considered to be rural. In total, one-quarter of the public school population is in attendance at one of these districts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Other data, compiled by Google and Gallup polls, report that while rural students show similar interest levels in learning STEM-related subjects, their access is far more limited. When asked how interested they were in learning computer science in the future, for example, the percent of students that reported that they were very interested or somewhat interested was the same regardless of their geolocation. Rural students, however, were less likely to have access to have access to STEM courses, clubs, and advanced placement courses.
While there are clearly a number of educators who work hard to provide opportunities for their students, often there simply aren’t enough resources available to them to help students to overcome opportunity gaps that exists in rural schools.
Some students and school districts in rural areas still lack access to high speed internet access. In an internet age, this makes it far more difficult for students to have the same opportunities as those in more urban or suburban areas.
Many rural areas also suffer from a lack of available teachers with STEM qualifications. This is due in part to a phenomenon known as “brain drain,” a term made popular by social worker and professor Goutham Menon. In essence, many students who graduate from college choose to move to more urban environments, leaving employment gaps in rural areas that desperately need passionate and qualified teachers.
To improve the situation at hand, and close the gap in access, it’s important that those involved in education work to expand and scale proven educational programs that work on the local level.
This can be done in a variety of ways.
There are a number of online learning tools such as CoderZ that make learning about robotics and programming highly accessible to students in rural schools, and is an affordable option for districts who don’t have the resources to hire more staff or add courses to their curriculum. Not only is it accessible, but students and teachers alike are impressed with how engaging the material is. One educator noted that students were so engaged that “students [didn’t] even know they were learning!”
Additionally, school boards should actively review the STEM and AP offerings that exists in the schools they’re in charge of. They should also be more attuned to the STEM workforce needs in their community, and plan ahead for a future where STEM jobs may help to boost their local economies.
It’s also important that parents take a more active role in exposing their children to STEM learning — especially if they live in rural areas. There are activities that parents and family members can do with their children to help boost their critical thinking and problem solving skills — and many don’t have to be rooted in mathematics and science.
All students should be offered the opportunity to have access to quality, rigorous coursework that is taught by passionate professionals in their field. For rural students, especially those in a lower socioeconomic status, change is necessary.
About the Author
This article was written by our amazing guest blogger Devin Morrisey, who first connected with CoderZ via Twitter. Believe it or not, Devin writes from his garage in Daly City, CA, stopping periodically to build robot cars with his nephew. He is a stark advocate for technological integration in educational policy.
If you also want to write for our STEM Blog, just contact us! The doors of our STEM Blog are always open for new, good, and talented writers.