Women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

Women in STEM : Global Perspective

There is a global realisation that science, technology and innovation are central for a more sustainable and prosperous future. This fact is validated by experience of many countries; those have experienced first-hand the transformative power of science, technology and innovation. It is worth thinking how we can harness this power for the benefit of communities, particularly for the most deserving and underserved? However, this requires immense human capacity of young population that must be leveraged for the increased prosperity and security of the country. Throughout this, it is crucial to ensure that all types of opportunities are equally available to both boys and girls.

Unfortunately, women are often under-represented in STEM education and particularly in STEM careers due to lack of opportunities and social limitations, contrary to men who get to complete and benefit from the education of their choice. These social biases originating from the existed norms, holds back many women to pursue a career of their choice, thus consequently influences the quality of the education they receive and the subjects they study. This gender disparity causes alarming differences between Men and women representation especially in STEM careers that are often referred to as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development.

What is STEM Education?

Traditional schooling segregates the concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics teaches them separately as discrete subjects. However, STEM does not follow the suit. Rather, it focuses on converging the subjects and teaching them via real-world applications. STEM education focuses on blending and integrating STEM subjects into a holistic learning curriculum where students are able to make connections from the classroom to the world around them.

STEM education stands for:

S – Science
T – Technology
E – Engineering
M – Mathematics

In essence, STEM education is an integrated educational curriculum that helps students develop critical thinking skills and creates a learning environment to prepare students for the real-world challenges. It also fosters creativity and innovation, in order to harvest the bright minds of the youth, so that they will be well-equipped to contribute meaningfully to the 21st century, technology and information-driven economy.

Through STEM education, students are taught subjects such as science, mathematics, and technology with an emphasis to develop skills for critical thinking, processing and understanding complex information, and problem-solving. These skills are necessary for real-world success. Thus, it is an educational curriculum that is believed to build a solid foundation in the youth to become problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and innovators.

Why is STEM EDUCATION important for Women?

Empowering girls and women to enter STEM fields of study and careers is imperative to improve their participation in STEM education and careers to reduce the gender gap in STEM professions. Moreover, it can strengthen the capacity of countries to deliver gender-responsive STEM education, through teacher training, educational contents and pedagogy that enhances awareness of the importance of STEM education for girls and women.

There are multiple reasons to support the involvement of women in STEM fields. Here are a few of them:

  1. An Ever-Expanding Field of Opportunities

The field of STEM is always expanding and constantly keep surprising us with newer concepts and technologies that are currently unknown. The involvement of girls within the STEM curriculum is crucial for preparing them to understand and tackle all such concepts. Moreover, knowledge of the vital technologies will ultimately help them to get better at using the technologies that power the world.

  1. Fighting Major Problems

No major problem in the history of mankind has ever been solved by the mere involvement of a single person. It was the unity of a massive team of people who solved any problem known to us. STEM workforces actively participate in solving the major problems of the earth. The involvement of women provides fresh perspectives on the problem. This allows problems to be solved more effectively. Moreover, with their perspectives, women can effortlessly collaborate with men to ensure a better future for the planet.

  1. Improvement in Workforce Quality

The economic environment of the world today is more competitive than ever. And to make a mark upon this market, there is the only thing that companies can do. It is to innovate and develop tools that satisfy some needs existing within the market. Involving women in such a workforce can help the STEM field to get access to a major talent pool. Such talents pools are known to bring in a different perspective upon the daily functions that include, innovating and developing products. This, ultimately, increases the overall quality of the workforce.

  1. A Boost For The Economy

From the economic point of view, the involvement of women in STEM workforces is a win-win situation. Contrarily, the lack of women in the workforce can only mean one thing – a deduction in the taxpayer’s money. Moreover, there is a loss in terms of potential if we ignore the benefits that women in STEM bring along with themselves. It was can be agreed that training women for STEM jobs can cost a fortune. However, this sum is nothing compared to the output that these women generate once they are fully trained.

  1. A Source of Inspiration For The Upcoming Generations

Statistically, a majority of youngsters aspire to become like their heroes. These youngsters want to follow the footsteps of their heroes and they make their way through the sands of time. However, without women in the STEM workforce, how can one aspire to inspire such youngsters. Not only does having a substantial women workforce attract more children towards the field, but it also encourages them to pursue fields that they previously imagined impossible.

Factors influencing girls' and women's participation and achievement in STEM education

According to UNESCO, there are multiple and overlapping factors which influence girls' and women's participation, achievement and progression in STEM studies and careers, all of which interact in complex ways, including:

  • Individual level: biological factors that may influence individuals’ abilities, skills, and behaviour such as brain structure and function, hormones, genetics, and cognitive traits like spatial and linguistic skills. It also considers psychological factors, including self-efficacy, interest and motivation.
  • Family and peer level: parental beliefs and expectations, parental education and socioeconomic status, and other household factors, as well as peer influences.
  • School level: factors within the learning environment, including teachers’ profile, experience, beliefs and expectations, curricula, learning materials and resources, teaching strategies and student teacher interactions, assessment practices and the overall school environment.
  • Societal level: social and cultural norms related to gender equality, and gender stereotypes in the media.

How To Inspire More Young Women to Enter STEM

As a country, we stand to gain a lot by exposing young girls to STEM fields and encouraging those who are interested to follow their hearts and minds. Here are some ways through which we can encourage more women to enter STEM:

Breaking Stereotypes Connected to STEM:

Girls and women are systematically tracked away from science and math throughout their educations, limiting their training and options to go into these fields as adults. As a result, it indirectly influences women career choices .Correcting the negative perceptions that girls develop at a young age can, however, lead them to embrace math and science when they reach high school, rather than avoid the subjects. Administrators and educators must strive to create environments in high school and college math and science programs that are inviting to females if we want to prevent the likelihood of their choosing a different direction.

Encourage Participation in Special Programs:

There are number of workshops that are being conducted nowadays to maintain the interest of women in STEM fields. These workshops help women to further gain experience in relevant STEM field and improve the quality of research they produce.  Moreover, there are also programs that are specially designed for women in and out of school to foster girls in stem fields. Therefore, encouraging more women to participate in STEM related programs can be greatly rewarding specially for the country and the community aspiring a future in STEM.

Creating an Inclusive Culture:

In order to close the STEM gender gap, organizations of all types should focus on creating a diverse and inclusive culture. This change begins during childhood, where parents can encourage their girls to take an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Schools and colleges should also address any lingering discrimination, discouragement, or stigmas involved in girls and women studying STEM topics. Curricular changes must ensure that teachers can inspire female students by engaging them in experiential projects, showing them the powerful impact of STEM on society, and empowering girls to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Following a Role Model:

A recent study has shown that role models in tech are more important for women than men because it helps them to be inspired by women who have defied all the stereotypes to pursue their career and set precedents for women who aspire join STEM career in the future.  According to a study conducted by Microsoft, girls are far more likely to feel empowered in STEM when they know a woman in a STEM profession.