Learning opportunities in science, technology, and engineering, and math (STEM) fields are more available in afterschool programs than they were in 2014. Nearly 2 million children across the United States participated in summer STEM camps in 2019.
But while afterschool programs are reaching populations underrepresented in STEM fields, students from low-income families are much less likely to be getting technology/engineering and computer science activities in afterschool than students from higher-income families.
According to “STEM Learning in Afterschool on the Rise, But Barriers and Inequities Exist,” a new report released this week, 60% of parents nationally report that their child participates in STEM in afterschool twice or more per week. Two in five parents (41%) report that their child’s afterschool program offers computer science opportunities.
The household survey, which was conducted by Edge Research for the Afterschool Alliance, found that in total 5,740,836 students are getting STEM learning opportunities in their afterschool programs.
“Afterschool programs are uniquely positioned to provide the STEM learning opportunities students need to succeed in school and in life,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. “Thanks to the team-based, hands-on learning these programs provide, they have become a cornerstone of STEM learning for children and youth from all backgrounds. But the inequities are troubling. We need to build more partnerships and invest more resources to ensure that all students, no matter their family income, gender, or race, can access STEM in afterschool.”
STEM Learning in Afterschool is based on responses from more than 31,000 U.S. families, including 561 families in Maryland. It includes national-level findings from smaller surveys of parents and program providers conducted in the summer and fall of 2020 and spring of 2021.
In important respects, Maryland results mirror the national survey findings, which include:
- Parents strongly support STEM learning in afterschool. Three out of four parents nationally, and 80% in Maryland say that afterschool programs help children gain interest and skills related to STEM. Seventy-two percent of parents across the country say STEM and computer science learning opportunities were important in choosing an afterschool program for their child, up from 53% in 2014. In Maryland, 70% of parents say that today.
- STEM learning opportunities are widely available in afterschool and summer learning programs. Today, nationally, 73% of parents report that their child’s afterschool program offers STEM learning opportunities, up from 69% in 2014. Among the STEM disciplines, the greatest jump is in technology/engineering activities, which were offered by 30% of afterschool programs in 2014 and 39% today.
- Afterschool programs provide STEM learning opportunities to populations underrepresented in STEM fields. Nationally, more parents of Black (77%) and Latinx (77%) students report that their child’s afterschool program offers STEM than White (72%) and Asian (68%) parents. Afterschool STEM opportunities have increased for both boys and girls since 2014, rising from 69% in 2014 to 75% for boys and 72% for girls today.
- But opportunities are not the same for all families. Nationally, three in five children in families with higher incomes (62%) participate in a STEM activity in their afterschool program twice per week or more, but just 56% of children in families with low incomes do. Students in families with higher incomes also have a greater variety of STEM offerings, particularly in technology/engineering, science, and computer science.
- There are gender disparities in the students’ afterschool and summer learning programs reach with STEM. Although afterschool STEM opportunities have increased for both boys and girls, opportunities are growing faster for boys. Nationally, STEM learning opportunities in afterschool increased from 69% in 2014 to 75% for boys, while increasing from 69% to 72% for girls. Nationally, 53% of STEM summer camp participants are boys and just 47% are girls.
“Our programs here in Maryland have been doing heroic work during the pandemic, helping students who have suffered more than a year of isolation, learning loss, and trauma,” said Ellie Mitchell, executive director of the Maryland Out of School Time Network. “Many programs provided STEM learning before and during the pandemic. We are pleased to see that a growing number of parents recognize the importance of STEM learning in afterschool. We are particularly proud of our partnership with STEM Next and the Million Girls Moonshot, which is inspiring and preparing the next generation of innovators by engaging one million more girls nationwide in STEM learning opportunities through afterschool and summer programs over the next five years.”