What is STEM education?
The term “STEM education” refers to teaching and learning in the fields of science, technology,engineering, and mathematics. It typically includes educational activities across all grade levels— from pre-school to post-doctorate—in both formal (e.g., classrooms) and informal (e.g., afterschool programs) settings.
Why Is STEM Important?
Science is the one subject that encompasses everything in life and helps students to make connections as to why the world exists as it does. It is the backdrop for understanding our world, and helps us to explain and appreciate it in many new ways. However; Black youth are lagging behind and ill-prepared for the generation of 21st century technology.
We need to get kids interested in Science and Math as early as possible sought of like what the media does in its massive brain washing campaigns. Our children must be taught that the world doesn’t end at the corner of their neighborhood but that it’s many avenues them to explore. African American children must be equipped with competitive math and science skills to give them a competitive edge in this era of booming technology.
Not since the launch of Sputnik in the late 1950s has the United States put so much emphasis on mathematics and science education.
In the 50s, black children were locked out of many educational opportunities because of segregation. Now, more than a half century later, there is resurging attention to STEM fields, but most black children are locked out because of inadequate preparation.
At 12% of the U.S. population, African Americans are severely under-represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The percentage of African-Americans earning STEM degrees has fallen during the last decade. In 2009, they received just 7 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4 percent of master’s degrees, and 2 percent of PhD’s.” Indeed, “in a typical year, 13 African-Americans and 20 Latinos of either sex receive PhD’s in physics.” This disparity is informed by the egregiously low number of black students taking college preparation, honors and Advanced Placement classes and tests. For African American students, the absence of quality college prep instruction at the middle and high school levels is often one of the most significant roadblocks to college access. For example, at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles African American students are 27% of the population but only 4% are enrolled in AP classes.
Finding mentors, navigating the complexities of subject requirements and keeping afloat academically are a natural part of being in college. But these challenges are often even more daunting for African American students in STEM departments where there are few African American faculty and administrators. For many black students, the absence of tenured black STEM professors exacerbates the racist and sexist low expectations that they confront in the classroom and on campus.
Despite the increased attention, however, very little discussion has centered on the quality of the ‘soil’ that provides the essential nutrients to the roots of STEM education – our k12 public educational systems.
Yet, K12 STEM education is the very thing, or the ‘IT,’ that needs to be at the center of national discussion concerning education reform. It is now critical that we explore and construct innovative models for a 21st century education that enables, empowers and prepares all of our children (our seeds) to compete and become our future innovators.
Today’s discussion around STEM has disconnected the vitality of its roots from the quality of the soil. For example, most local public school district reform efforts (particularly in urban centers) do not include STEM in any meaningful way.
Despite being a major component of the soil in which its roots are planted, grown and nourished, STEM education is seen as something ‘extra’ or ‘only for those (other) kids,’ and is typically mentioned in a cursory manner, if at all. This attitude is of particular concern for African-Americans and other under-served and historically, socioeconomically marginalized communities who, together, will become a majority in the coming decades yet make up less than 5 percent of our nation’s STEM professionals.
How are our children going to be able to succeed and compete in an increasingly globalized and STI-driven economy if they are not prepared?
Shouldn’t STEM preparedness be at the center of the discussion?
Thankfully, at the state level there are some exceptions … Ohio for example, seems to get it, and is actually implementing innovative STEM-focused school models around the state.
So, while I applaud the attention and focus on STEM education at the national level, I wonder where is the local discussion among urban public school districts concerning the importance of STEM and how it can be a driver for education reform, and not just an a la carte menu item?
If we (African-Americans) are to remain economically relevant and enhance our capacity to participate and even innovate across STEM fields, then why aren’t we making the connections between STEM’s flowers, its roots and the quality of the soil – our k12 public education systems – for our kids?
Finally, if we want more flowers of innovation to bloom with all the wonderful variety of colors and fragrances that we have in our nation, it will not just be a simple matter of planting more seeds; we should be equally concerned about the quality of the soil in which we plant the seeds for our future.
So, let’s begin the discussion about how we can ensure a bountiful yield and harvest for future generations to come that puts the issue of STEM education in its rightful place at the center of the debate about education.
Mae Jemison, the first black woman astronaut, who has a medical degree and a bachelor’s in chemical engineering. “The more people you have in STEM,” she says, “the more innovations you’ll get.”