The world we live in is becoming increasingly digital. Couple this with fact that; science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM learning) based jobs are expected to grow at double the rate of other occupations over the coming years, now is the time for schools to act.
You’re most likely thinking that a lot of these subjects are a core part of the curriculum already, so what more can schools be doing? Whilst these lessons may be taught throughout various levels of education, we need to ask is enough being done within these subject areas, as well as in the wider school environment to persuade students to go on to study these subjects at higher levels?
What is particularly worrying here is that whilst we’ve seen that the sector is clearly growing, less than one in five people holding roles within the STEM industry are women. If this predicted growth is set to continue in each of these sectors, then young women could well be left behind within working society.
As such, the time is now for the education sector to step up and act in encouraging young women to get involved within STEM based learning. Again, the question is, what can be done to foster this engagement? Let’s have a look at some of the best ways we can help inspire young women to be getting involved with STEM.
Break the stereotypes
Unfortunately, despite best efforts, there’s no escaping the fact that in all areas of our society, there are stereotypes. Be it that ‘all teenagers are lazy’ or ‘all men should like boxing and cars’, I’m not short of examples here. Perhaps though, the most damaging stereotype of all is that of the types of things that girls and boys should have an interest in – especially from an education perspective.
Historical misconceptions will tell us that boys are meant to be better at maths than girls and that boys should be interested in technology and experiments whilst girls should be interested in more caring roles (nursing for example). However, if you need any persuading that this data and perspective is now ’history’ and not relevant in current society, then how about the fact that girls are now actually doing as well in maths as boys and in fact have been getting better combined maths and science grades in high school for the last 25 years!
Rather than focusing on how girls and boys perform, what we should instead be concentrating on is encouraging all students to be pursuing ambitious roles, showing that their personal ability doesn’t fall into any stereotypical category other than exceptional.
One example of this being done comes from Anne-Marie Imafildon who believes that girls and young women have the ability to perform as well as or outperform boys within education when they are focused and determined. This leads on to her idea that when students are putting their minds to something – they are going to achieve. Therefore, perhaps we should be focusing on how we can increase the desire to pursue STEM options, rather than who has the better ability to perform in them.
Real life examples
Breaking down stereotypes goes a long way to providing young women with a supporting and encouraging atmosphere where they feel like they can truly express themselves and explore the vast world of STEM learning. But how can you go on further and inspire female students to pursue these options and not feel embarrassed by their interests?
The best answer I can give you here is to show them examples of what women in STEM have been, and are, continuing to achieve.
One of the best examples you could give any female student to get them inspired in STEM learning is the real-life experiences of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, otherwise known as the women who inspired the book and film ‘Hidden Figures’. These three women defied race and sexism to complete vital roles within NASA – launching missions to space despite the perceptions of everyone around them.
But why stop there? Beyond the realms of real life, women in STEM working environments are now also being strongly represented within Hollywood, or should I say in space? The blockbuster film, Gravity portrays Dr. Ryan Stone, a female biomedical engineer who goes up into space to work on the Hubble Space Telescope. Don’t worry, just in case you still haven’t seen the film yet I won’t spoil it for you, however what I will say is the film goes a long way in showing a strong female character in a STEM based role, and I can’t think of many things more inspiring than an astronaut, can you?
Discussing these examples as well as promoting a desire to achieve similar achievements can be both a parent and teachers best tool to getting young women not only involved with STEM but having a real ambition to pursue it as a career option.
Provide the necessary resources
So, you may have managed to break the stereotypes through showing that girls can achieve the same results as boys. You also may have inspired your students to want to get involved with STEM through real life examples – but are you providing them with the resources they need to take it to the next level?
The obvious place many would think to start when asked this question would be with IT facilities, and to an extent this is quite true. I’m not sure how many people would be overly inspired when using an outdated desktop or laptop where they are having to deal with sticky keys and software that is over a decade old. This is something that doesn’t stop with women in tech either, if the technology isn’t in place, schools are struggling to inspire STEM learning to take things to the next level, so what can you do about it?
It would be easy for me to say to you here to just buy new equipment, but with limited budgets that isn’t always an option. If you’ve got the capability and the need to upgrade your tech then there’s no problem and you can instead focus on some of the ways you can be using your tech to inspire students. But what about if you don’t have the necessary technology in place? Don’t worry, we have some useful suggestions for you to change this:
- 1:1 schemes – are a very viable option for many schools nowadays. Schemes that are allowing you to share the cost of the devices with the parents of children within the school, mean that they’ll have access to the latest technology, without worrying about the price tag it may hold. You have a need to provide the latest and greatest technology and parents have an interest in ensuring children are getting the best education possible, so through 1:1 schemes you can begin to take the next steps to inspiring your students. Streetly Academy did just this and have seen many benefits to the learning outcomes of their students since implementing a 1:1 programme.
- Refurbished technology – this is another option that’s been growing in popularity recently. Whilst many people still hold their reservations over refurbished tech, people are warming to the idea. Plus, with information out there on some of the biggest misconceptions around refurb, worries are being quashed. This allows schools to viably invest in refurbished tech, that, whilst isn’t brand new, is a significant improvement on the devices that they may be currently running.
Whilst devices go a very long way to increasing productivity within education, as well as inspiring students to get more involved with STEM based lessons, there are also many resources that you can be taking advantage of to get those creative juices flowing.
LEGO® Education is perhaps one of the best resources I have seen that is achieving this. Offering resources that focus on coding as well as co-operation and intelligent thinking in both primary and secondary levels of education, LEGO® Education is providing the perfect mix to spark interest in STEM subjects. Tracking back to stereotypes, girls and young women would be expected to have interests in coding and building mechanical devices, however with these resources, they are given a fun way of getting involved and ultimately encouraging interaction with STEM, which hopefully will be carried on through the later stages of their learning experience.
So, there you have it, some of the best ways you can help prepare more young women for the heavily STEM centred society that we seem to be on a collision course with. Whilst stereotypes and misconceptions still may exist within society, we now have the chance to destroy these and offer great opportunities to both men and women to succeed in STEM career paths.
When you couple this with the provision of the tools these students need to succeed, I have no doubt that we will be soon seeing hordes of ambitious men and women ready to show society how they can make their mark.