The 21st century is an era of increased economic interdependence, unpredictability, variability, and dynamic change. Advancing technology plays a critical role in globalization and the shifting educational paradigms in which online learning has become necessary to career and post-secondary success. During this worldwide pandemic, it is even more critical that caretakers and teachers utilize technology to effectively support remote learning.
With schools closed, parents, grandparents and other caregivers are looking for ways to keep children occupied and learning for the many hours at home. In this occasional blog, Connecticut Voices for Children will offer suggestions that we hope will help to use the time in ways that are fun and beneficial for children and caregivers alike. This post focuses on STEM learning.
STEM is an abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
WHY IS STEM LEARNING IMPORTANT?
COVID-19 has exposed the urgency of developing technological infrastructure in schools and addressing the STEM deserts that exist in low-income communities of color; these tools are now necessary to function in our current economy and society. Moreover, STEM learning fosters skills that are crucial for our continuously evolving workforce such as critical thinking, tech fluency, innovation, creativity, solving complex challenges, dexterity, and experimentation. Additionally, competence in STEM is required to fulfill our future job market needs and secure gainful employment; the majority of jobs demand STEM skills and this is only projected to increase over time. The STEM pipeline currently faces socioeconomic, gender, and racial disparities; prioritizing STEM learning will help mitigate the opportunity gap.
STEM AND WOMEN & GIRLS
Despite ongoing efforts to remedy gender inequity in STEM fields, it continues to grow; women hold just 24% of tech jobs and earn a fifth less than their male colleagues. Gender disparities are most pronounced in high-level management and executive positions with only 18% of women occupying STEM leadership roles. Employment data from March highlights that women have been disproportionately impacted by initial job losses and furloughs during the COVID-19 shutdown. Occupational segregation has caused women to be concentrated in industries that face economic insecurity, and women experience more layoffs than men within sectors.
Women in STEM are critical to the stability and long-term growth of the U.S. economy; a diverse workforce allows for creativity and innovation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected an 8.8% growth rate in STEM careers from 2018 to 2028; the recruitment and retention of women will be necessary to fulfill our country’s workforce needs. Importantly also, the median annual wage in 2018 for STEM occupations was $84,800 in contrast to $37,020 for non-STEM occupations. Hence, there are compelling labor market advantages for women to enter into these careers which include more employment opportunities, job security, and high-wage positions. This is especially true during an economic downturn. For example, a study of college major selection finds that “recessions encourage women to enter male-dominated fields, and students of both genders pursue more difficult majors, such as STEM fields.”
Women of color account for the smallest population of those who earn STEM degrees. In 2015–2016, only 5.0% of Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) women, 2.9% of Black women, and 3.8% of Latinx women achieved bachelor’s degrees across all STEM fields. Studies show that the scientific identity of young women is impacted by the intersections of race and class. For example, Black girls in urban centers experience marginalization in mathematics spaces, and their teachers perceive them to be outsiders as well; thus, entering the scientific community becomes challenging and undesirable. Promoting gender and racial equality in STEM requires strategies to overcome the cultural challenges and inadequate access to resources that persist.
Educators and caretakers can play a key role in tackling the shortage of women, particularly women of color, in STEM-related positions. Exposure to female STEM professors encourages female college students to pursue STEM careers. A new study released by NBER underscores that “among high-ability female students, being assigned a female professor leads to substantial increases in the probability of working in a STEM occupation and the probability of receiving a STEM master’s degree.” However, early journal submission data shows that female professors are currently facing challenges in academia due to the COVID-19 outbreak; physical distancing is impacting the ability for women to publish academic research relative to their male colleagues due to increased childcare responsibilities. Depending on the length of the outbreak, this may have negative long-term implications on the number of females entering STEM careers; tackling this issue and other challenges women face in the STEM field are necessary to achieve gender equity and meet our country’s employment needs. Education can help address the issues facing women in math and science; exposing girls to STEM at a young age, providing engaging programs and opportunities, and supporting them with mentors are essential in the creation of pathways for females to enter STEM careers in the future.
Children and families who are most in need of technological resources are disproportionately impacted by the digital divide, which CT Voices for Children, in partnership with other stakeholders, is working to close. For families with access to technology, we recommend the learning opportunities enumerated below, so caretakers can fight the STEM racial and gender gaps at home.
Girls Who Code is an organization that is working to build a pipeline of future female engineers in the United States, and address the drop off in computer science that girls encounter between the ages of 13-17. They hope to increase the number of women who are graduating with computer science degrees; currently, less than 20% of computer science graduates are women. Girls Who Code has just released free weekly activity sets for 3rd-12th grade students to practice unplugged or online computer coding skills with Girls Who Code at Home.
Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame provides lesson plans that share women’s stories of challenges and accomplishments to foster girls’ leadership and to further educate others on the dynamic contributions of women. Their education programming is aligned to Common Core standards and reinforces the necessary 21st -century skills for students to become engaged members of our democratic society, successfully enter the world of work, and continue to pursue lifelong learning. STEMfems Junior curricular guide is for students in grades 3-5 and highlights the stories of influential women in the STEM field throughout history.
Other resources to support girls and young women at home:
Five teenage girls from a robotics team in Afghanistan built a ventilator out of Toyota parts to help fight against COVID-19. You can read more about this motivational story here.
SUPPORTING ADULTS AT HOME
SUPPORTING ADULTS AT HOME
Parents need help too during this challenging time. That’s why the state has launched a hotline for adults to call—when it builds up—if they need additional support—to talk it out.
 Development Dimensions International Inc., 2017
 National Center for Education Statistics, 2017