Certain areas of the U.S. lack equitable access to informal STEM education, and low-income, predominantly Indigenous communities are among the most likely to be affected, according to new research out of Texas A&M University and Colorado State University.

Researchers looked at the locations of informal learning institutions (ILI) in the U.S. Examples include zoos, aquariums, museums, science centres, public libraries, national parks, biological field stations, and botanical gardens.

The paper maps the location of ILIs nationally and compares the locations with demographic data relating to income, population size, race, and ethnicity.

A portion of the Great Plains encompassing 48 counties was found to have no ILIs at all, leaving more than 327,000 people with limited access to informal STEM learning.

“These ILI deserts disproportionately affect Indigenous and impoverished people,” reads a statement from the study’s authors.

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“Further exploring this relationship, the team identified that micropolitan areas, those distant from metro areas but having populations of 20,000 or more people, are also underserved by ILIs.”

The authors are calling for future collaborations between existing ILIs to create learning opportunities for underserved communities.

“In the areas we identify as underserved by ILIs, national parks, biological field stations, and libraries are especially well situated to partner with each other,” study author Dr. Rhonda Struminger said in a statement

“Together these venues could create new opportunities to engage the public with informal STEM experiences that can promote science literacy and potentially bring more diverse populations into STEM-related professions.”

The full paper has been published in Science Advances.

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