In response to the increasing diversity of learners, it is extremely significant to provide equitable access to quality education to nurture the growth and development of students with disabilities. Special emphasis needs to be placed on meeting the unique needs of diverse learners through appropriate interventions, accommodations and modifications. This study illuminates myriad challenges faced by students with learning disabilities (LD) in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Inclusion, learning and growth of students with LD in STEM education is extremely important to support their development because despite their intellectual potential, students with LD face enormous barriers in science education. The goal of current reform policies and efforts in STEM education is to support the development of diverse learners as scientifically literate members of society and to build their knowledge and skills to adequately prepare them to pursue careers in STEM fields. Developing a better scientific literacy would enable individuals to use scientific knowledge to critically analyze scientific claims, thoughtfully navigate through complex issues involving science and technology, make knowledgeable decisions about their ecological environment, health, and wellbeing.
The number of students with LD are increasing in general science classrooms, but they continue to underperform in STEM subjects because of their cognitive impediments. Therefore, examining the role of STEM education in the 21st century is important to develop the requisite knowledge and skills in all students to enhance their scientific literacy. The purpose of our presentation is to stimulate a thought-provoking conversation with practitioners and researchers in STEM education to better understand the problems confronted by students with LD. A critical understanding of these barriers is essential to develop scaffolded learning environments for these students to foster their engagement and learning in STEM disciplines.
As such, this study converges at the intersections of special, inclusive, and science education to identify, understand, and address the underlying reasons that impact the cognitive and academic achievement of students with learning disabilities. More specifically, this multifaceted analysis of the literature presents an overview of the contemporary discourses around the epistemological principles and pedagogical practices in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; discusses the continuing controversies surrounding the conceptualization of learning disabilities; and points out the challenges that science teachers face while teaching students with LD in inclusive settings.
Since difficulties in cognitive processing are thought to underlie learning disabilities, this study focuses on cognitive processing issues that may inhibit students’ learning during their engagement with inquiry and problem-based learning tasks in science and other related fields, including technology, engineering, and mathematics. Thus, this presentation illuminates how specific cognitive processing issues may affect the achievement of students with LD in science and presents effective interventions to address cognitive processing issues and to promote the inclusion and achievement of students with LD in STEM. Drawing on the insights from research on cognitive processing deficits, this work offers a new framework to science educators to understand and address the unique needs of students with LD in STEM learning using research-based interventions gleaned from the literature.