The STEM Education Coalition is calling for more informal science, technology, engineering and math instruction to take place outside of the classroom.
“If we want to grow the STEM education pipeline, we have to reach populations that are not traditionally represented within the STEM field,” said James Brown, the coalition’s executive director.
That includes African-Americans and Hispanics as well as students from low-income families and rural areas.
“The ways in which you influence and inspire those kids into STEM pathways is different, and after-school and informal education programs provide a wealth of opportunities to do that,” said Brown.
The coalition, which is an alliance of more than 500 business, professional, and education organizations, has published a new report that makes that argument. The report was funded by a grant from the Noyce Foundation.
The report, called “The Case for Investing in Out-of-School Learning as a Core Strategy in Improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education,” spells out the disparities in STEM education and offers after-school programs as a possible solution.
It finds that African-Americans and Latinos make up 29 percent of the general workforce population but only 16 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of the computing workforce, and 12 percent of the engineering workforce.
The report also mentions the gender gap in STEM. Women only make up 26 percent of those entering STEM fields and 22 percent of the country’s engineers.
Brown cites the freedom of after-school programs to pursue STEM projects that might not be feasible during school hours. And, the report finds that students who participate in STEM projects outside of school are more likely to choose a STEM career field.
For example, surveys of students who participate in the FIRST Robotics competition found that they were more than three times as likely to major in engineering and more than twice as likely to pursue a career in science and technology.
The coalition is calling for the Every Student Succeeds Act to be fully funded, which would provide more money for after-school STEM programs. One provision of the ESSA would allow schools to use federal funds to integrate after-school and in-school STEM programs, one of the coalition’s key goals.
The coalition is also asking the federal government to play a bigger role in the coordination of after-school STEM programs. And, the group would like to see federal professional development programs include classroom instructors as well as those who work in STEM education outside of school.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.