Barriers to STEM Education in Scarborough and the GTA

By: STEM Powering Canada July 28th, 2020

Why Do We Need STEM Education?

With a rapidly developing society comes the need to educate future generations. STEM education is without a doubt a necessity for students as it opens multiple doors for future opportunities, discoveries, and the advancement of our world. STEM education allows students to develop many essential skills to help them achieve their full potential. It fosters creativity, strengthens critical thinking, fortifies problem-solving, builds leadership and entrepreneurship and learning to accept failure through innovation. Many barriers currently exist for smaller and diverse communities that have limited access to STEM resources and education strategies. A research study conducted by the TDSB believes that STEM education [3]:

  1. Develops students with the skills and competencies needed for living in the world.
  2. Enhances student learning
  3. Helps students solve real-world problems

Barriers to STEM Education:

Out of the 23 secondary schools in Scarborough, only 8 have access to higher learning in STEM-related fields, through a Specialist High Skills Major, in either Health and Wellness or Information Communications Technology [1]. Students are less inclined to reach for these higher education opportunities as they are less exposed to STEM activities in earlier years. A simple google search for STEM outreach opportunities in Scarborough renders very few results, and with the few existing measures in place, costs to participate may be too high for some families. The 2016 Census reported that approximately 80% of those living in Scarborough aged 15 and above have an annual income of less than $50,000. With the costs of everyday living on the rise, little room is left for access to current STEM educational opportunities.

An article published by The Toronto Star outlines the changes being made to the Ontario school curriculum, namely the cuts to STEM programs [2]. Of the 313 TDSB classes that were cut, 26% belonged to STEM-related programs. Of the 304 classes with increased student numbers, approximately 46% belong to STEM-related programs [2]. Removing STEM classes and increasing the number of students in the limited existing classes, leaves little room for student and teacher interaction. Overall, this decreases a student’s education quality in STEM. Several schools have cancelled classes in computer science, earth science, and space sciences due to low enrollment, leaving these students with these courses as requirements for post-secondary education to night school or summer school.

The research study conducted by the TDSB reported that teachers believe a barrier to implementing more STEM learning was the lack of time to prepare and teach in class [3]. In addition to this, one of the largest barriers mentioned was a lack of professional learning opportunities and facilities which limit teachers’ abilities to implement STEM learning in classes [3]. Administration teams mentioned that lack of funding and resources to these programs was a significant barrier to overcome, especially when there is a lack of teacher knowledge of these subjects [3].

What is Being Done About This?

The research study conducted by the TDSB highlights some major recommendations and plans to challenge these STEM barriers. As of 2015, the TDSB is aiming to [3]:

  1. Promote higher levels of student achievement.
  2. Develop students’ creative and innovative thinking with a STEM focus.
  3. Increase confidence in students when solving critical thinking problems.
  4. Challenge the under-representation of marginalized communities in STEM fields.

Researchers recommend increasing the availability of STEM coaches for teachers, resources and partnerships between schools to improve the STEM education quality for students.

Codi Wilson and Chris Herhalt published an article for CP24 highlighting a new Ontario math curriculum implemented by the provincial government. They aim to introduce personal finance terms and computer storage measurements, as well as reverting to basics for math topics [4]. They plan to implement coding concepts in grades 1 through 8 and will provide teachers with professional development time and resources to become more successful [4]. These measures are currently being put into place to help alleviate the decrease of grade 3 EQAO math scores from 67% to 61% over the past 2 years and the steady-state of grade 6 EQAO math scores at 61%.

Here at STEM Powering Canada, we aim to reduce the number of barriers between students and STEM education. We are a non-profit organization that aims to provide access to many STEM opportunities for students and their families. We want to empower youth through STEM education, through support from educated volunteers looking to share their knowledge, and enhance new opportunities for students.


  1. TDSB (2020). Specialist High Skills Major. TDSB. Retrieved July 30th, 2020 from
  2. Toronto Star (2019). Ontario's new class size means Toronto, York school boards forced to cut STEM classes. The Toronto Star. Retrieved July 28th, 2020 from
  3. Sinay, E., Jaipal-Jamani, K., Nahornick, A., & Douglin, M. (2016). STEM teaching and learning in the Toronto District School Board: Towards a strong theoretical foundation and scaling up from initial implementation of the K-12 STEM strategy. Research Series I.
    (Research Report No. 15/16-16 Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Toronto District School Board
  4. Wilson C, Herhalt C (2020). Ontario's new math curriculum to introduce coding, personal finance starting in Grade 1. CP24. Retrieved July 28th, 2020 from