When we encourage girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we double the potential to change the world for good. This Women's Day let's think about why girls don't pursue careers in STEM - and what we as teachers can do about it.
Problem: Girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. They need more exposure to STEM jobs, female role models, and career awareness and planning.
Solution: Provide girls with role models of women who have successfully pursued careers in STEM or IT.
What we are doing: This year SchoolNet SA has worked with Microsoft Philanthropies and the Mpumalanga ICT Club Community of Practice to run a number of DigiGirlz events. As part of these events, women who have succeeded in careers that use digital technology speak to girls about their experiences in IT careers and girls try out a number of digital tools for themselves.
At the Soweto DigiGirlz event held in Soweto Sankari Nai, the Uber South Africa Lead Analytics Manager told girls from "programming is a magical world where you get to learn and create new things every day." She encouraged the girls to study engineering and embrace opportunities to master a range of skills.
At an Emalahleni DigiGirlz event three @MicrosoftSA women who described how they went from ordinary township schools to careers in IT. Girls were surprised to learn that women who now manage Microsoft's relationships with major South African companies went to schools where neither CAT nor IT were offered as subjects.
At a Moipane Maths Centre in Tembisa, SchoolNet's Mathapelo Sehume described to the DigiGirlz how she was the only girl in her class when she studied IT at college - yet she was the first one to write an pass the examination. She encouraged the girls to focus on their studies and not to believe stereotypes about which subjects are for girls.
Problem: Girls don’t initially see the potential for careers in STEM to be creative or have a positive impact on the world.
Solution: Expose girls to a wider range of possible careers that make use of STEM subjects and skills.
What we've been doing: At our YouthSpark workshops we have encouraged teachers to show learners the Make Whats Next Career tool. This tool asks learners to select two fields that they are interested in and a range of careers that incorporate those interests, as well as some STEM component, appear. This tool can be useful when grade 9 learners are selecting their subjects to take from grade 10, as well as when grade 11 and 12 learners are considering their options for tertiary studies as the tool shows a range of careers that many learners may not have heard of before.
Problem: Research shows that girls who participate in STEM clubs and activities are more likely to say they will pursue STEM subjects later in their education. So how can we get more girls doing STEM activities?
Solution: Provide teachers and learners with free resources and tools that they can use to introduce learners to basic computer science concepts.
What we've been doing: Through the YouthSpark Grant that we received from Microsoft Philanthropies, we have been offering free introductory workshops to teachers who are keen to learn how to introduce their learners to the Hour of Code, Scratch programming, computational thinking using the Computer Olympiad resources and physical computing using virtual microbits.
We would encourage teachers to try out these free resources with their learners to give them a taste of computer science and to create an imagination for the possibilities of pursuing a career in STEM.
For access to more free resources and ideas please see the Microsoft YouthSpark hub.