Studies have revealed large disparities in access to STEM opportunities for students in high-poverty areas and schools. While a large majority of students in low-poverty schools have access to rigorous learning opportunities in STEM subjects such as computer science, physics, or calculus, too many students in high-poverty schools lack these STEM opportunities.
In the past 18 months, the pandemic has added to this equity gap for STEM opportunities, disproportionally affecting low-income and minority families, while also illuminating vast inequities in our society. As educators take steps to eliminate these injustices in their communities, one problem that shouldn’t be overlooked is the existence of “STEM deserts.”
What is a STEM Desert?
Students in high-poverty areas have significantly lower access to rigorous STEM learning opportunities than students who attend schools in lower-poverty areas. These disparities result in a domino effect that affects students’ opportunities in college, their future careers, and beyond.
A lack of equitable STEM learning opportunities for students from low-income communities means they are less likely to consider STEM majors in college and subsequently enter high-paying STEM careers. This makes it much harder for students to surpass economic barriers and perpetuates cycles of poverty.
What Causes STEM Deserts?
High-poverty schools often struggle to attract and retain teachers with the expertise needed to develop and teach courses in more specialized STEM subjects. The result is that students in these so-called “STEM deserts” have fewer opportunities for advanced STEM learning in school.
Students in low-income areas also have less access to STEM enrichment and experiences outside of school. A 2020 study by researchers at Texas A&M and Colorado State universities found that students in high-poverty counties have fewer opportunities to engage with STEM learning outside the classroom, such as access to experiences at museums, zoos, aquariums, and science centers.
Increasing STEM Opportunities with Online Learning
A high-quality online learning partner can help resource-challenged schools instantly extend their curriculum and offer courses to students online that they aren’t able to provide themselves. These courses are taught by experienced and certified instructors who have expertise in highly-specialized STEM subjects and are thoroughly trained in online teaching best practices. Additionally, the best online learning programs ensure that students are supported by on-site coordinators who can guide students and answer their questions.
With VHS Learning, schools can offer their students greater access to STEM learning opportunities, including 24 Advanced Placement courses and STEM courses such as physics, advanced math courses, and computer science. These courses can spark students’ passion in STEM subjects and open doors to college opportunities and future STEM careers.
Online learning is an accessible solution to K-12 STEM deserts, bringing high-quality STEM learning opportunities to the communities who need them the most. To learn more about how online learning increases STEM opportunities, read Online learning is an oasis in K-12 STEM deserts on District Administration.