Cheyenne, OK – House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced a bill earlier this month to improve science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science (STEM) education in rural communities.
The Rural STEM Education Research Act addresses inequities faced by rural students that make it harder to access quality STEM education. These are driven by a wide variety of challenges, including shortages of science and math teachers, high teacher turnover, and difficulty in accessing computer-based learning technology.
The Rural STEM Education Research Act takes a comprehensive approach to these challenges by giving teachers more resources and training in STEM, engaging students in hands-on education within their communities, increasing access to broadband, and supporting research on rural STEM education.
“When rural students can’t access high-quality STEM education, they miss out on valuable opportunities and we lose bright minds that could be contributing to American industry and research,” Ranking Member Lucas said. “This is an extensive problem, affecting roughly 20 percent of our students and hurting their ability to compete for higher-paying and faster-growing STEM jobs. And yet rural communities can provide unique STEM educational experiences where students can take part in the science occurring in the farms, forests, and water around them. This bill provides more support to rural schools, encourages place-based learning, and supports research into rural STEM educational challenges. Improving rural STEM education has been one of my top priorities since becoming Ranking Member of the Science Committee, and it’s never been more important than it is now with students and teachers working remotely during COVID-19. We’ve seen how a lack of access to broadband and technology has put them at a greater disadvantage than ever. I appreciate all the work Chairwoman Johnson is doing with me to improve STEM education and I look forward to moving this bill through our committee.”
“The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted some of the challenges rural communities face when it comes to STEM education,” said Chairwoman Johnson. “This year, students across the nation have struggled to continue their studies with limited access to key resources like broadband internet, laboratory equipment, and in-person instruction. The pandemic has also illustrated how heavily we rely on our STEM workforce to come up with solutions to the problems we face. I am immensely proud of the role the scientific community has played in charting a course out of this nightmare. To ensure we continue to have a world-leading STEM workforce in the future, we must do all we can to provide students everywhere with the inspiration, knowledge, and skills they need pursue their dreams. The Rural STEM Education Act is an important step in this direction.”
The Rural STEM Education Act supports research and development activities to improve understanding of the challenges rural communities are facing in providing and sustaining quality STEM education programs and takes steps to address them.
The legislation helps develop best practices for accessing and using computer-based and online STEM education courses. It helps schools combine online STEM education with hands-on training and apprenticeships to give students both a theoretical and practical understanding of science and math skills.
This bill also takes steps to address one of the key obstacles to rural STEM education – reduced connectivity, and, particularly, the lack of broadband access. It directs the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to establish a prize competition to stimulate innovations in technologies to deploy broadband connectivity to underserved rural communities. It also establishes a working group to set key research priorities for improving broadband access so rural communities can enjoy the same connectedness as the rest of the country.
This bill supports opportunities for rural educators to refresh and enhance their own STEM knowledge, such as training in computer science or research opportunities at Federal Laboratories and universities.
Lastly, the bill broadens the participation of rural students in STEM by emphasizing place-based learning, which gives students direct access to the STEM knowledge present in their communities and local environment.