One major area that educators, reformers, and policymakers need to be aware of when working on the problems of STEM education are the inequalities of access that students experience based on both their track in high school and their geographic location. These barriers stand in the way of creating a culture of STEM proficiency that ensures that society has a universally excellent future STEM workforce.
One of the most important things that can be done to institute a culture of STEM education inside the American school system is to make sure that positive STEM experiences are available to every student. Typically, STEM magnets focus on preparing the best, the brightest, and the most engaged with extra resources to propel them to STEM greatness in college and later careers. However, not every student has access to these resources. That should not remain as a barrier to students. Too often, regular track and vocational track students are left behind when STEM learning opportunities are developed in middle schools and high schools. However, these students are just as deserving of excellent STEM education as the rest of their peers. Indeed, increasing the level of STEM education that these traditionally left behind students receive may be one of the key ways that educators can raise the number of students who are prepared for university level science during their freshman years in college.
Further, just as a student's high school track should not determine the quality of the STEM education that a student receives, a student's geographic location should not be a barrier to STEM excellence. Rural and inner city students often have fewer STEM resources available in their schools. This is not said to belittle the amazing impact that existing resources, grants, and partnerships are already having in these and other, more affluent areas. Instead, the educational world needs to realize that many students will come from areas that do not have access to these resources based on proximity. Ensuring that educators can nonetheless provide an excellent educational experience for all students is an important part of ensuring that tomorrow's STEM workforce is prepared. The current generation has been the most mobile in United States' history, and the next generation seems likely to be even more mobile. Thus, no longer will the STEM needs of the local area be the level at which students need to be educated; instead, they need to be ready to compete on a national and international scale due to the changing nature of tomorrow's job markets.
Educators have an amazing power in society that allows them to have an enormous impact on the future interests and careers of today's students. By giving teachers the tools and resources they need to reach all students, no matter their geographic location, track in school, or demographic, the goal to leave no student behind in STEM education becomes more achievable. Every student has the right to learn, and in a world increasingly driven by the STEM fields, every child has the right to a full and comprehensive STEM education. Too often, we do not know what the future will hold, and society is often left grasping with how to cope with current circumstances. To safeguard against this, making sure that every student has a right to a solid STEM education is a great first step in confronting tomorrow's issues before they can ever turn into major problems.