If we do not move with the times, sadly we will find ourselves left far behind
As students return back to school, and become settled in their individual seat in the classroom, there remains a lurking issue that has remained unaddressed for far too long. STEM Education
As a long- standing affiliate of the pedagogical profession I know and understand that if the interest of children are not piqued early the odds of them, once they enter high school, if they donot already like it or find something that they enjoy about it, they won’t go into STEM career fields. That must be addressed and changed. Black students, especially from a young age, need tobe exposed to engaging STEM activities to understand the options they have and see themselves in the field. Early education programs often fail to expose them to technology career paths or inspire a love for technology. To coin a well known saying, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.
There is inadequate representation on any level especially in the STEM career field, and this absence of role models within their circles discourages them from pursuing STEM careers and has created a pressing need for addressing educational disparities. In 2018 (the author), while conducting research on McGill University Black medical school entrants from 2010-2017, found that Blacks were the most abysmally underrepresented groups. Additionally, while conducting Summer School, where needless to say “Science” was a taboo subject, not up for discussion at any time, and Mathematics was definitely a MIA issue. In brief conversation however, a few students did say that having a Black teacher in these areas while in high school would have helped tremendously, as well as seeing pictures etc. of Black high achievers in STEM. Students also cited the absence of mentors encouraging them to go into the field. It is apparent that students do not understand the wide range of jobs that the STEM field encompasses, anything from nurses and doctors to environmentalists and data analysts. “Once we have more people in a place understanding better ways to reach our African Canadian children, then that is how we will get them more involved.
A fact that should not be overlooked is that STEM fields are demanding and unforgiving; if you do not know the math, then you would not get the answer, and failing to get the answer, means you would not pass the course.
From a pedagogical perspective, I now venture to say the following: Part of our demise is that we are largely invisible. In the Black community at large most people do not possess a clue as to what the average scientist and engineer even does for a living, and worse yet do not really understand it even following painstaking explanation.
This is due to the fact that there are very few people who look like us doing this work. Telling someone that you are an engineer simply is not as definitive an answer as “I am a doctor” or “I am a lawyer”. Compounding the conundrum is that there are not that many television shows that portray engineers/scientists out there compared to the amount of, say, police, border patrol agents and lawyer shows. While NCIS with its lab tech, and even Big Bang Theory, have helped show how science is relevant in our world and have helped to humanize scientists and engineers, nevertheless what scientists and engineers do is still overall a mystery for many people.
Canadian culture does not support STEM Culture. Our society rewards people either financially or emotionally more in the following fields: sports, entertainment, finance. Individuals strive to
be in these fields because either they will make a lot of money, or get a lot of attention/be idolized or both. Engineers and scientists would not starve but they are not going to get Bill Gates rich. (Remember that Bill Gates was not an engineer, he was a Harvard drop-out).
So instead of pursuing studies leading to engineering, your average high schooler will try to get on Canada’s Got Talent by having a conversation with a parakeet, or singing into a hairbrush for hours on end, or alternatively they will practice dribbling and three point shots for hours on end for that one in a million shot at being a star and making millions of dollars and receiving tons of adulation/attention. Tell them to spend that same amount of time studying math? Not likely.
The socially awkward kid that likes hitting the books while other kids are playing video games is the stereotype of your future engineer or scientist, and no kid with even a nano ounce of pride wants to go through school with that image (even kids that are interested in science and math do not wish to be seen that way). At an early age children become aware and learn what society values, and it is not engineers or scientists. The “nerdy” kids that are the recipients of straight A’s on math and science tests get no love in school from their peers, but nobody teases the star kickball player or a budding LeBron James.
Parents are the single biggest influence in their child’s lives, and as such are guilty by virtue of creation, relation and obligation, for not steering their children into STEM fields. On account of society not really valuing Stem careers, many parents are totally unaware of what engineers do, or what it takes to be an engineer. As a result, they do not advise their children to consider the field.
Sad to say but nevertheless true, the quality of teaching in some schools does not rank among the best, and as such children do not receive the basic instruction they need to excel at math and science at the higher levels. Math is not akin to History. The basics are the foundation for the higher level math and science concepts, so if you fail to understand the concepts in the
beginning, guaranteed you are just going to have a hard time with math. A lot of confusion students have in comprehending math and science concepts, can probably be retraced to the fact that many teachers in grades K-11 never majored in math or science and therefore do not understand math or science themselves.
Problem solved: How can you teach someone when YOU do not understand it yourself?
Conclusively, taking into consideration all that has herein been stated what is really required is equal opportunity to accept or reject an interest in STEM. This starts with early childhood education and providing good schools to all throughout their entire childhood. That is the obvious place where flaws exist now. For example, fix how schools are funded so certain schools are not automatically or de facto better funded.
Let’s dispel the myth that Black folks don’t do STEM. We will always have STEM with us.
Some thighs will drop out of the public eye and will go away. There will always be Science, Engineering and Technology.
There will always, always be Mathematics.
Aleuta——- the struggle continues.