The importance of equity, opportunity, and access to quality STEM education were brought into sharp focus at a recent online panel discussion co-convened by Harvard in the Community, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and LabXchange. During the online panel discussion, which massed an audience of over 150 people, experts shared their insights on STEM education, raised key challenges currently facing STEM educators and students, and strategized about possible solutions to these challenges. The event, titled New Pathways to STEM: Increasing Access & Opportunity in Science Education, took place in November 2021 as an extension of the annual Massachusetts STEM Week, a state-wide initiative that invites everyone to “See Yourself in STEM.”
The panel featured five experts in STEM education and industry:
As she introduced the event, Dean Long shared sobering statistics about the STEM labor force. “Although Black workers represent 11% of the US workforce, they make up only 6% of life sciences and only 5% of engineers,” Dean Long stated.
"Although Black workers represent 11% of the US workforce, they make up only 6% of life sciences and only 5% of engineers."
She also pointed out that women are particularly underrepresented in STEM. “Although women account for about 47% of the workforce in the United States, they hold only 25% of computer and mathematical occupations and just 15% of engineering jobs.” Dean Long emphasized that these statistics mirror the inequalities seen in STEM education. Dean West raised another major challenge that STEM education is currently facing: how to retain talented science teachers at the K-12 level of education.
“The first priority,” he explained, “is just ensuring that all students, especially students of color, and girls, that are underrepresented in these fields, receive high quality STEM education throughout their pre-K-12 education.” Dean West went on to argue that the challenge is retaining educators, when their qualifications allow them access to much more lucrative job opportunities in industry and the private sector. “That means to some extent doubling down on the basics of education policy, above all making sure that we have highly qualified, highly effective teachers of STEM subjects in the classroom,” he said.
To further illustrate the point, Dean West shared research results with the panel. “Math and science teachers, when they left teaching and went into other occupations, were the only group of teachers that, when they made that move, earned a lot more…They were also more likely to leave.”
Dr. Graves claimed that the solution to this problem is simple. “This isn’t rocket science. We live in a market driven economy. So if you want to get the most talented people into teaching, particularly teaching STEM, the districts have to pay competitive salaries.”
Dr. Graves also endorsed LabXchange as an “outstanding tool” to address students of color and girls’ lack of access to quality STEM education. Commenting on the scientific content offered on the LabXchange platform, he honed in on “the treatment of biological and social conceptions of race, which is something that you just do not see in K-12 across the nation'' as being of particular importance, “particularly for historically underserved populations in science.”
Anti-racist, equitable, and accessible approaches to science education are the foundation of the LabXchange mission. These values are at their most prominent in the Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education project, which seeks to rectify racial inequity in science education through interdisciplinary, freely available learning materials.
Mike Edmondson offered the perspective of the Amgen Foundation, a leading funder of innovative science education programs and LabXchange’s primary sponsor. “We recognize that the promise of digital, free, high quality resources to increase access is super important. So, the Amgen Foundation supports…LabXchange immensely to expand the reach of providing high quality assets that are freely accessible in various languages.”
LabXchange proved to be a particularly important tool during the recent switch to remote learning precipitated by COVID-19-related school closures. Commenting on how schools dealt with the lockdown, Amanda asserted, “I can tell you that LabXchange absolutely saved the biotech program that year. We switched immediately to LabXchange. So instead of students micropipetting in classrooms, we did micropipetting simulations and we actually went through the biotech curriculum using that.”
The event raised many insights from some of the leading thinkers in STEM education. LabXchange looks forward to not only stimulating more of these conversations, but also spurring on real-world action to increase equitable access to quality STEM education. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates on the RDEISE project.
You can watch the full panel discussion here: