By Devin Partida
Photo by : Unsplash
Pursuing equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is an ever-evolving conversation around representation and diversity. Artificial Intelligence (AI) — a frontier within STEM itself — emerges not just as an object of study but as a tool to promote equity among students who want to pursue a career in this field. However, can teachers really use AI to champion inclusivity, adaptability and accessibility to create a brighter future for minorities?
Personalized Learning Paths
The traditional school system often follows a one-size-fits-all model, potentially leaving behind those who don’t fit the mold. Through adaptive learning systems, AI can provide each student with a tailored learning educational experience.
For instance, a student struggling with calculus or programming might receive additional resources to explain foundational concepts. Another student excelling in the same area could be challenged with more advanced problems. Such personalized learning ensures students from various backgrounds — especially those underrepresented in STEM — have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.
Eliminating Language Barriers
Language barriers can impede non-native speakers who want to study STEM. With AI-powered translation tools and real-time captioning, lectures, texts and resources can be made accessible in many languages. This process ensures students grasp complex STEM concepts without struggling to understand the nuances of language.
Duolingo has proven this theory by adding math-related vocabulary and concepts in multiple languages. While primarily known as a language-learning application, Duolingo Math teaches users how to solve problems in English and their native language, merging language acquisition and STEM education.
Supporting Students with Disabilities
AI can be a game changer for students with disabilities. For the visually impaired, AI tools can convert text to speech or introduce tactile graphics. Speech-to-text technologies can ensure spoken content is available for students with hearing impairments. These apps support their learning and allow for an inclusive classroom environment where all students can participate.
A real-world example is Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, which the company integrated into various Office products. It employs AI to enhance readability for users with dyslexia. It offers text spacing, syllable breakdown and a read-aloud function, making STEM resources accessible to students with reading difficulties.
Obtaining Data-Driven Insights for Teachers
AI can inform educators about where students excel or struggle, helping them make more fitting lesson plans. By analyzing this data, teachers can identify patterns that indicate systemic issues, or biases in the curriculum or their own teaching methods. These unintentional biases can be present in their lessons, exercises, and even the books and resources available in the classroom.
For example, Knewton Alta provides students with engaging and personalized courses based on their interests and skill levels. Since introducing this platform into their learning program, the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin saw completion and on-time submission of math homework nearly double.
Democratizing Access to Resources
Geographic and socio-economic barriers often prevent students from accessing quality STEM education. While some students can easily move to another city or state to pursue STEM in a school specializing in it, others can only afford to attend school within their hometown. AI-driven online platforms can bridge this gap, providing high-quality resources, simulations, and virtual labs to students regardless of their location or economic background.
Coursera and edX are massive online course providers using AI to offer personalized course recommendations, ensuring students access the most relevant STEM resources. Some of the courses are created by professors from Harvard and MIT, giving students access to top-notch STEM instruction on demand.
Facilitating Peer Connection and Mentorship
AI can match students with peer mentors or tutors who have complementary skills or have overcome similar challenges. Such platforms can be especially beneficial for underrepresented students in STEM, giving them role models and additional support in their educational journey. Since more of the workforce is considering diversity essential, finding ways to include mentors to give students goals is crucial.
This point calls for a more social use of AI. Community platforms like Brainly have been using it to connect students with peers who can help them with their lessons. While often regarded as a platform for getting answers to homework questions, Brainly provides a sense of community, especially to students who may feel alone or out of place in their quest for knowledge and higher education.
An often overlooked statistic regarding the representation of minorities in STEM is their belief that they do not “belong.” According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 34% of Black and Hispanic people think they don’t have the ability to succeed in this field.
This harmful mindset can come from decades of racism and discrimination, or from not being part of a community that empowers them and tells them such realities are attainable with hard work. With such statistics, the importance and impact of AI-powered community platforms must be prioritized as much as actual learning platforms and tools.
The Power of AI in Creating Equity in STEM
AI’s potential for promoting equity among students is clear, as it continues to address barriers, personalize education and provide unparalleled access to resources. AI can help ensure the talents, perspectives, and innovations of a diverse and representative cohort of professionals enrich STEM fields. As AI integrates further into education, it’s important to move forward with a particular focus on equity and inclusivity to ensure all students can excel in STEM and find meaningful employment post graduation.
Discover more about how STEM promotes Equity here