A high school student, Arya Peruma has taken the initiative to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education for underrepresented groups of children. She has lead hundreds of learners on STEM learning journeys in a virtual environment since the start of the COVID shut down. Her nonprofit organization, Coding for Young Minds Community Organization, has delivered several online learning events to engage young people in learning about STEM.
Arya has volunteered as a tutor and worked to support learners in a variety of environments. Additionally, she has taken STEM learning online by developing and delivering STEM lessons. Some topics have included learning engineering and coding concepts.
STEM education promotes a variety of skills needed in the 21st-century workforce, such as:
- digital literacy
- critical analysis
- independent thinking
Employers and the entrepreneurial field need people who are skilled in collaborating, acting independently, and thinking deeply and innovatively.
In a world in which women make up most young university graduates, women still are underrepresented in STEM fields. The Canadian National Household Survey found that “women accounted for 39% of university graduates aged 25 to 34 with a STEM degree in 2011, compared to 66% of university graduates in non-STEM programs,” according to a 2013 study by Darcy Hango.
Arya knows it’s not just women underrepresented in STEM. People of color have also been affected. For example, the practice of putting Grade 9 students into applied or academic tracks, which has been called “systemic, racist, discriminatory” by Education Minister Stephen Lecce, is being phased out in Ontario.
In the United States, African American women are underrepresented in math and science. A study by Farinde and Lewis (2012) advocates for teachers “employing culturally relevant teaching practices that will undermine gender and racial biases within the classroom.” In universities, race and gender contribute to students’ feelings of not belonging in STEM fields. Universities, curricula, and pedagogy continue to have structural and cultural characteristics that favor white males.
Taking Steps Forward
Arya’s work helps bring STEM to children of all backgrounds early to spark their interest in working in STEM fields. She is passionate about supporting low-income and marginalized communities through meaningful technical engagement in STEM. If children learn about the possibilities of careers within STEM fields, they are more likely to want to continue onto higher education in STEM and to work professionally in it.
Through Arya’s nonprofit, each class is free, and webinars and events are recorded for learners to view later if they cannot attend live. A lack of fees helps to break down the financial barrier many students face in pursuing supplemental, private lessons in STEM.
Each webinar provides step-by-step, detailed instructions on how to solve various kinds of STEM problems. Arya has also begun to ship STEM kits to students in Toronto when they provide their shipping information on her websites. The kits are free through July 2020, and they will give elementary-aged children hands-on practice to accompany their experience at the webinars. For instance, they gain hands-on experience as they assemble and animate robots. The link to the recorded video showing how to put the STEM kit together is included in the kit.
Educators know that they must continue to learn to improve their lessons, and Arya is always finding ways to advance her STEM content delivery. She plans to tackle coding, science, and engineering in future webinars to host live STEM teaching events with custom agendas when the government lifts COVID closure restrictions.
For July and August 2020, Arya is planning to deliver webinars geared toward middle and high school students on topics in math. She designed these webinars to make specific math topics easier to understand, which can decrease students’ frustration and fear of math. When they see a peer breaking down a difficult concept, they can gain the confidence to pursue further education in math and related fields.