There is little doubt that we have a crisis in STEM education in the United States today. Much of the attention to improving and increasing STEM skills among our citizenry and students focuses on what happens during the formal school day. Yet children and teens spend less than 20 percent of their waking hours inside a classroom and we know that learning occurs in a wide variety of settings outside these hours. Many afterschool programs have responded to this challenge by offering STEM learning experiences that bring these fields alive for their participants.
A new report from the Afterschool Alliance analyzes evaluation studies of afterschool STEM programs to identify trends and outcomes from such programs. Titled “STEM Learning in Afterschool: An Analysis of Impact and Outcomes
,” the report finds that high-quality afterschool STEM programs are yielding STEM-specific benefits in three broad categories: improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers; increased STEM knowledge and skills; and increased likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career.
The evidence and research increasingly show that out-of-school-time supports such as afterschool programs are not just luxuries but necessities to spark and maintain interest in children and youth. We need a much broader view of learning that pays close attention to the experiences that make all the difference between students persisting in STEM fields and dropping out despite getting good grades. There need to be a variety of opportunities for students to engage in STEM topics that make these fields interesting, relevant and valuable to them. Afterschool programs are showing themselves to be a cost-effective way to improve the state of STEM education in our country and we must invest in this potential as we all work toward the goal of a more STEM-literate society and STEM-proficient workforce.