Debunking common myths about equity, diversity and inclusion in the STEM classroom

April 20, 2021

Creating space for diverse perspectives is critical to growth and innovation. Research shows that organizations with inclusive cultures are six times more innovative and agile and eight times as likely to achieve better business outcomes (Deloitte, 2018). While the value of equity, diversity and inclusivity in STEM has been strongly established, many STEM educators – the very people who are fostering a new generation of STEM leaders – experience discomfort when addressing equity, diversity and inclusivity in their classrooms.

Many report feeling unequipped with the knowledge and confidence needed to participate in the dialogue, let alone lead it. In addition to gaps in the tools and resources available to support teachers, a large part of this discomfort is fueled by widely accepted myths circulating within our education system – myths we’re here to debunk! 

The truth is, all educators can deliver inclusive, diverse and equitable education and should feel empowered to do so. Inclusive education ensures all students feel safe and supported to learn, explore new ideas and freely express their opinions.

Here are three common myths about diversity and inclusivity in STEM classrooms debunked to empower all educators to deliver inclusive education:

Diversity and inclusion are critical in math. It’s widely known that students are more engaged when they feel a sense of belonging in the classroom, and when the material reflects their own culture, interests and communities (Byrd, 2016). Of course, the more engaged students are in their education, the more meaningful the learning experience.

There is more than one way of understanding a mathematical problem. We can diversify math and make it more relevant and engaging for students by differentiating the way we frame and present mathematical problems. Draw on your students’ backgrounds, knowledge and experiences and incorporate them into the stories you use to frame math problems. Ask yourself, what examples of scenarios do I provide? Who is able to see themselves represented in these examples? Are they inclusive? Will they resonate?

An inclusive teaching practice doesn’t mean you must teach as if you belong to a different community. It also doesn’t mean you are an expert on all communities and identities. It means you can embrace difference by identifying and creating opportunities to share and amplify different perspectives and voices.

First, critically reflect on your personal experiences and teaching practice to identify and confront your own biases. A good place to start is by learning and listening. There are several books to engage people in thinking about biases. Next, learn about your students’ backgrounds, experiences and knowledge. Then, identify culturally relevant resources and/or mentors/role models to help your students identify with the content and learn from different communities and identities. For example, you may decide to invite mentors or guest speakers with different or unique views and perspectives to foster new dialogues and explore new ideas. This can be valuable even if the speaker’s background is not the same as an individual or group in your class.

What’s important is that everyone (teachers and students alike) explore diverse perspectives, think critically about multiple ways of being and knowing, and recognize prejudice and discrimination – whether in STEM or beyond.

Even though many of us can agree a wide range of identities belong in STEM classrooms, several stereotypes continue to threaten diversity in STEM. These stereotypes persist in our current workforce, where there remains a long-standing underrepresentation of certain groups. For example, in 2016, just 23% of science and technology workers were women (Statistics Canada, 2019). We also know less than 2% of people working in STEM occupations are Indigenous (Conference Board of Canada, 2020). It’s therefore important we explicitly address and emphasize equity, diversity and inclusion in STEM classrooms. We must encourage students to engage in dialogue that helps them recognize, understand and respect diversity and ensure a wide range of identities are represented in our material, even if those identities are not present in the classroom. Sharing stories and experiences of role models and mentors in STEM (past or present) who challenge binaries and limiting thinking can also empower students with the confidence needed to pursue STEM education and careers.

Feeling empowered and want to learn more?

Read about the key takeaways of our IDEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) Summit about learning approaches shaping inclusive K-12 classrooms .

Take me there!