Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Do STEM Enrichment and Enhancement Activities Increase Study In STEM Subjects?

Well, this is a rather discouraging report.

A study of UK's secondary school students (11-16 years old) has found no significant increase in STEM participation despite involving them in STEM extra-curricula activities such as visiting labs, museum, etc. The study found that these students who were exposed to such activities are no more likely to pursue STEM subject areas and do well at the A-Levels than other students.

This longitudinal cohort study evaluated the impact of STEM enrichment and enhancement activities on continued post-16 STEM participation. A direct noticeable positive effect of engaging in these activities on pupil STEM subject choices was not found. The findings were similar for all pupils irrespective of their socio-economic status or ethnicity. Pupils who were registered by their schools for STEM enrichment and enhancement activities every year did not have any greater likelihood of continuing to study STEM subjects than their peers after compulsory education. This was true for all pupils, FSM and black ethnic minority pupils.

As someone who has participated in many outreach programs, and have been involved in providing access to various facilities to students from many schools, I always have been under the impression that such a thing might make a difference. Of course, I have no empirical evidence to back that up, other than seeing and having a feel for how excited the students were at what they were seeing and learning.  This is especially the case during my many-years of participation in Argonne's Science Careers In Search of Women program.

But I too have often wondered if these programs keep track of what the students ended up pursuing. I mean, it isn't sufficient to simply have these programs and activities. We must also evaluate how effective they are. And to be able to judge that, we have to make follow-up survey and track what these students ended up doing.

Otherwise, we will be doing all these stuff just to make us feel good without having any indication that what we did was actually beneficial or have the intended result. If this study is true, then we need to rethink how we engage with high-school students in encouraging them to be interested in STEM subjects.


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