Research Says After-School Programs Foster Interest in STEM

Research Says After-School Programs Foster Interest in STEM

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After-school programs can help students develop an interest in science, technology, engineering, or math.

If children haven’t developed an interest in those fields by the time they leave middle school, then it’s unlikely to happen. After-school programs can help expose students to more than they see in the regular school day, providing an opportunity for them to develop these interests.

“Part of that is giving kids a safe space where they can try an experiment,” without the pressures of school, said Ron Ottinger, director of STEM Next at the University of San Diego.

STEM Next is one of more than 20 private and corporate foundations that created the STEM Funders Network, in 2012. The initiative seeks to use its collective power to increase awareness of how to get more students involved in science, technology, engineering, and math. A STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative includes 37 communities across the United States that are dedicated to supporting research-based efforts to spread STEM lessons to children–inside and outside of the classroom.

In a national survey last year, more than 78% of children said they’d had a positive experience with the STEM subject areas because of an after-school program, according to new research from the PEAR Institute at Harvard University, McLean Hospital, and IMMAP: Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis and Policy at Texas Tech University. The survey included 1,600 children and after-school program leaders in 11 states.

And there’s some proof that after-school programs are effective as well. Research from Robert Tai, an associate professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, provides evidence that students who spend time on STEM subjects outside the classroom are more likely to pursue careers in these fields. The study was published in 2011 in the International Journal of Science Education.

In rural areas, where it can be logistically and financially difficult to do after-school programs, the internet has created ways that allow technology to fill the gap. One example: After-school programs can dial in to link with NASA online.

President Trump’s administration has declared an interest in encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers. After-school programs could serve as an effective way to help achieve that goal. But after-school initiatives have been slated for cuts under the Trump administration’s proposed budget.

“It’s puzzling that on the one hand the new administration says it’s important to get women and young girls launched in STEM, and yet you see the NASA education program [and others] on the chopping block,” Ottinger said.

This article was produced by the Hechinger Report and is republished here with permission.