Leading Girls to Success in STEM Education
The importance of subjects such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is growing year by year. STEM professionals design and develop innovations for our society, and occupations connected to these disciplines play a key role in the sustained growth of the economy.
Women are still considered a minority in the fields related to science and technology, both in education and professions. According to the UNESCO report Cracking the Code, only 35% of all students in STEM higher education around the world are women. Within various STEM disciplines, differences have been observed; for instance, only 3% of female students in higher education pursued Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
According to Girls Who Code, less than 20 percent of computer science graduates are women. Today, only 24 percent of computer scientists are women, and by 2027, just 22 percent of women will be represented in the field.
STEM Gender Gap
Since the STEM professions are the gateway to success – driving innovation, social well-being, inclusive growth, and sustainable development – the gender gap is alarming. The root of the problem lies at the educational and professional levels.
Let’s begin by discussing one fundamental issue: from a young age, girls are discouraged from pursuing a career in STEM. There are many negative stereotypes regarding girls’ abilities and intelligence, and this later correlates to the social construction of gender-specific careers. From early childhood, girls are told that specific (engineering/construction-related) toys such as rockets, trains, planes, and cars are for boys. Thus, it’s no surprise that when choosing a profession, many girls and women follow the socially acceptable path of more female-friendly careers.
The second issue is not related to questioning girls’ abilities, but rather to the stereotype who dominates the scientific fields. Research shows that when children are asked to draw a mathematician or scientist, girls were twice as likely to draw male scientists than female, and almost all the boys drew males. The stereotype young girls are exposed to, sends them a clear message that STEM careers are unattainable for them due to strictly enforced gender roles.
Although in recent times women have succeeded to increase their representation in STEM professions, equality is still far, far away.
How Should We Empower Girls in STEM?
With modern society’s aim to provide all individuals with equal opportunities, educators must understand the importance of and the necessity to motivate girls to seriously pursue STEM-related careers. Technological literacy is highly valued in today’s international market, so strengthening girls’ engagement and confidence in STEM topics in both elementary and middle school is inherent to their success.
Bring Role Models
Educators need to introduce children to women who have succeeded in STEM fields in order to help deconstruct the stereotype that “it’s a man’s world.” It will help inspire and motivate young girls to meet successful women who’ve endured their same struggles. Young girls, from early childhood, should be informed that there are female engineers, developers, and scientists.
Thus, by acquaint girls to female role models, educators and mentors will be able to inspire girls to professionally expand their horizons. Prepare a list of inspirational female scientists and feature them during your class! Inspire the youth by reading biographies, looking at video and text profiles online, and watching TV shows (fictional and documentary) that feature female STEM role models.
One of the best ways to promote STEM among young girls is to create a friendly environment that promotes the notion that careers in the sciences are well within their reach. Also, great STEM activities can be found outside the classroom – at science museums, zoos, scouting organizations, and STEM clubs.
It is essential for educators to empower girls not only through class lessons but also by creating opportunities which expand their interests and perspectives. To attract more women to STEM, it’s fundamental to teach girls that STEM careers align with their interests, values, and desire to make an impact. The most efficient and scalable way to do this is by integrating real-world relevance into school.
Combining tech with real-life problems will strongly resonate with many girls, allowing them to see the broader impacts of their efforts. Whenever in the classroom you discuss an issue the society or the environment is struggling with, go over the solutions and point out how technology or engineering can help.
Teach About Failure
One of the biggest issues with modern education is not teaching students that failure is an opportunity for growth and learning. Students must learn that failure should serve as motivation rather than discouragement. This is especially important when encouraging young girls, who are often considered less talented and efficient in STEM-related topics, to pursue STEM careers.
Students often times believe that only passion, motivation, and discipline will yield success. However, they must be reminded that in order to truly succeed, they will fail and face many obstacles along the way. Therefore, girls must be taught to strive for success regardless of the obstacles they will face and gain the necessary problem-solving skills.
Parents should take an active role in inspiring girls and encouraging them to have STEM interests. Underrepresentation in fields of STEM is a serious issue so parents should be aware of the power and impact they can have on boosting their daughters’ confidence. It’s necessary that both teachers and parents motivate and inspire the future generation of female innovators and leaders.
Parents should motivate girls to pursue STEM in school and university. They must be taught the importance of technology and digital literacy at home and at school. Parents should inform their children that STEM careers offer higher salaries, and employment in STEM occupations is expected to increase at a faster rate than other occupations.
There are plenty of programs for girls who are interested in STEM. Parents can empower and support girls to participate in after-school classes and special programs dedicated to girls who want to improve and develop STEM-related skills. For instance, SciGirls can provide fun, engaging STEM activities that differ from the formal classroom setting. Activities such as designing a scientific investigation, creating a solution to a technical problem, or meeting with a female scientist or engineer can inspire girls and allow them to see STEM in a new light.
Another example is an all-girls technology program can be Alexa Café. The camp focuses on technology and emphasizes its connection to entrepreneurship, leadership, and social impact. It is the nation’s leading (and largest) all-female summer tech camp, and due to its success, the program expanded to over 15 campuses across the country. As a teacher, you can prepare a list of similar events happening in your district and share it during parent-teacher conferences.
Make STEM Real
In today’s modern society, striving for gender equality is a necessity; therefore, it’s important to empower girls to choose STEM classes and professions. Motivate them by creating a friendly environment, and in your lesson plans incorporate girls to take leadership positions when regarding STEM fields.
Make sure to deconstruct the negative stereotypes regarding girls and success in STEM, and encourage boys to be supportive of girls succeeding in all paths of life.