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How to Interest Youth Hispanic Community In the Study of Science And Math

Posted Oct 17 2011 9:15am
I am proud to be born and raised a Hispanic. There are lots of contributions Hispanics have made to the American community since Spanish was enacted a language among the American states. Since then though, many struggles have shifted to the Hispanic/Latino born or raised in North America.

But we are not going to talk about the millions of Hispanic living here. We are interested in the young kids and teens who are attending school. They are our concern, because Hispanics, despite being a large number, they have yet to gain a strong political representation.

The Educate Yourself…The Moment Is Now! initiative ( Edúcate, es el momento in Spanish launched back in February 2010 in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation , the U.S. Department of Education , educators, civic and community leaders from around the country.

This article is part of the educational attainment, an issue at the heart of the economic viability of the country, which Univision Communications Inc. will patronize for seven days beginning Sunday, October 16, 2011.

Despite Hispanic students do not enjoy the same opportunities as the non-Hispanics counterparts in the U.S., many of them still are able to go to college. But not in enough numbers and only three percent of these students opt for a career in science or engineering. Why is this happening? According to a PEW report , language is a challenge for most immigrants. The study says that only 23 percent of Latino immigrants answered they speak English fluently.

Another cause could be the poor performance in school. Hispanic students typically receive about 20 points lower in science or math classes than non-Hispanic students. This leads to a very margin (four percent) of them who are considered at the end of 12 grade, proficient in math and with a seven percent well prepared in science. These disparities may relate to failed social policies , a lack of support from their parents, or related language factors, as we have pointed before.

But how the society, government, community, teachers and parents can revert this situation ? This is not a matter of the Hispanics solely. Study after study has shown that students in the U.S. lag behind their peers in many other countries when it comes to test scores in STEM disciplines. This academic disadvantage means that students turned-adults are less inclined to become engineers, scientists and inventors.

Students and families need to comprehend that use of scientific knowledge benefits society as a whole, through advances in areas such as technology, medicine, healthcare, food quality and safety, better communications, and environmental monitoring. After that, research shows that youth develops a sustained interest in science and math when: (1) Their science experiences connect with how they envision their own futures; (2) Learning environments support the kinds of social relationships students value; and (3) Science activities supports students' sense of urgency for enacting their views on the purpose of science.

It's easier said, than done.

It's key to the U.S. economy to strengthen and innovate culture and education of youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). We are living a crisis where the education sector is being affected by reduction of its budget. However, a strong industrial economy cannot come about without a good investment in education, research and development. This economy is knowledge-based. Then, the public funding needs to be there if we want to reestablish that solid economy we used to have here.

How many times have you heard someone saying "I hate math". Well, one reason why young people lose interest in math appears to be the way in which it is taught. The science and math curricula tends to be packed full of facts that young people are expected to memorize and with the velocity the digital natives have been growing, this model of teaching, seem counterproductive.

A survey by the Lemelson-MIT Program suggests that hands-on activities outside the classroom, is one of the most effective ways to engage youth ages 12 through 17. The same survey shows that this student population prefer field trips, extracurricular activities where they can build things and develop projects. Two-thirds of teens chose hands-on individual projects and hands-on group projects.

Some other times salaried jobs, especially in the IT sector have been drawing the younger generation away from math and science, and if this keeps growing, we are going to be short of scientific talent very soon. In classrooms, teachers need to explain to students, especially minorities, that science along math and technology play a very important role in addressing challenges associated with poverty and hunger.

Hispanic families are living below the poverty line and suffer from the higher unemployment in the country. And unfortunately the concentration of students coming from Hispanic families live in neighborhood where teachers reject to go to work for many reasons, among them safety. The descendants need to be aware that through their careers they can contribute to economic development, creation of employment opportunities, reducing hunger through enhanced nutrition, improved cash and subsistence crops, and if they look back to their roots they can even offer a better soil management and efficient irrigation systems.

To get young Latino successful in school, parents need to have control of the time kids have after school. They are immature enough, to not manage their own time, Hispanics believe in a strong sense of cohesion and family and it has to be reflected in school, too. With millions of Hispanics living in the U.S. we need to have more political representation to enable policies to our own benefit. Young Hispanics should remember they do not have to be a genius to become an inventor or a scientist, each one of them just have to have "ganas", the desire to learn more and to want to improve people’s lives with their ideas.

It does not come as a surprise that Los Alamos , New Mexico, has the highest number of people with PhD’s per capita in the country, many of whom are inventors and scientists. They seem to have a full understanding of the societal impact that STEM professionals have, this city has worked hard to show today's teens how important it is to invent and innovate.

Ultimately, authorities, teachers and parents have to transform into role models and classroom mentorship, so young people get interested in learning science and math, at expenses of our own effort, time and money.

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