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Shifting to At-Home Education Leaves Some Canadian Kids at a Disadvantage

Jul 6, 2020


Toronto, July 6, 2020 – With in-school sessions paused across the country, educators have been grappling with the need to provide effective lessons remotely and digitally for students now learning at home. As teachers shift to online learning and parents start to play a bigger role, Canadian not-for-profit organizations are working hard to ensure that ever-important Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education can continue to be delivered to the kids who are hardest to reach – many of whom also need it most.

Actua and Let’s Talk Science, Canada’s leading STEM education outreach organizations, have long been focused on segments of the population vastly under-represented in STEM education. They’ve been placing special emphasis on reaching girls, new Canadians, Indigenous kids and youth, kids and youth residing in at-risk communities, and kids and youth living in rural and remote areas of the country.

Actua is a national charity that delivers STEM education outreach programs to more than 350,000 young Canadians every year. Traditional activities have included summer camps, classroom workshops, STEM clubs, teacher training and community outreach. But, with COVID-19 affecting how education is delivered, the focus has now shifted on new initiatives.

Actua has been supporting the development and delivery of remote STEM workshops to bring important programming to children via the Internet. The organization is also supporting the development and delivery of online STEM Summer Camps. Finally, Actua is developing, manufacturing and delivering hands-on STEM education kits for children with little or no access to technology – including those in Indigenous communities.

"As an organization that builds the STEM innovators of the future, Actua’s work is more relevant than ever," said Jennifer Flanagan, CEO of Actua. “This type of global crisis offers a lens through which we can more clearly see the importance of developing resilience, adaptability, creativity and problem-solving as foundational skills in youth.”

"The pandemic has impacted all students nationwide, but not equally,” Flanagan added. “Youth who live in rural and remote communities have less access to broadband and technology. To solve this issue, we’ve launched Actua at Home - a series of remote online and offline STEM learning opportunities and kit-based programs to support youth, parents and educators with a targeted focus on engaging the most vulnerable youth populations from coast to coast to coast."

Let’s Talk Science, the other top STEM education outreach organization that encourages young Canadians to pursue STEM careers, has responded to the changes wrought by COVID-19 by developing and rolling out a remote learning project called The Horizon Project. This initiative is aimed at students in grades 4-6, a group identified as being most at-risk for losing interest in STEM programs.

Under The Horizon Project, Let’s Talk Science is distributing learning packs that include materials to support STEM literacy and interest, as well as instructions and materials required for hands-on activities such as games and design challenges that use household items. Let’s Talk Science has also grown its “STEM at Home” online resource library.

"As the world shifts to support students’ online learning, the inequity gap is growing quickly. Children with little or no access to devices and/or internet are being left behind," said Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, President and Founder of Let's Talk Science. “We can’t afford to leave these kids behind. The Horizon Project aims to send a caring signal to vulnerable youth who may not be engaged in online learning that we believe in them and that learning is key for their future.”

Of course, this additional STEM education outreach programming costs money. And that’s where corporate funders come in. Organizations like the Toyota Canada Foundation have significantly increased their support for both Actua and Let’s Talk Science this year in order to help boost the remote and at-home learning strategies.

“As learning has shifted from the classroom to the household, children and youth without the proper digital tools and educational resources are being left behind and it’s becoming more difficult for the marginalized in our communities to get ahead in STEM as these groups are already underrepresented,” said Toyota Canada Foundation Board Member, Leslie Miller. “Toyota Canada Foundation is focused on programs that reach out to and support these kids and we believe its vitally important to continue to reach and engage them in STEM education experiences as they adapt to this new reality.”

In an online interview recorded live on May 29, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains told Actua CEO Jennifer Flanagan that investing in STEM is about empowering people – especially Canadian youth.

“Good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere. It’s not just about focusing on traditional kind of segments of society,” Bains noted. “But if we invest in Indigenous communities, young people, particularly young girls and women who tend to fall through the cracks historically when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics – we just basically expand the number of opportunities we have to generate even more ideas and I think that just makes us better, makes us more competitive.”

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