By Ingrid Sanchez-Tapia, Education Specialist at UNICEF HQ
The differences between adolescent girls’ and boys’ participation and interest in science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) and information and communication technologies (ICT) persist in most societies. Adolescent girls show lower interest in STEM and are less represented among top performers in standardized science tests.
Very early on girls are exposed to learning environments at home and in school that present an idea of STEM and ICT as fields for men where boys can “naturally” succeed. These stereotypes lead girls to believe that STEM and ICT are not areas where they belong or where they can learn, and create self-doubt about their own abilities.
It is the lack of self-confidence, not their abilities, that drives girls away from STEM/ICT. But to succeed in STEM/ICT, one needs to fail many times, continue trying, refining strategies, until finally a problem is solved, an explanation is posed, and one moves to the next challenge. This process can be exhilarating if you believe in yourself, or spirit-breaking if you already believe you are somehow lacking and “not good at STEM”.
It is the role of educators, mentors and caregivers to challenge the gender norms that lead girls to doubt their own abilities.
STEM/ICT education can not only lead to future better employment for young women, but also supports the development of essential skills for solving problems in our communities, staying healthy and participating productively in the most important debates of our times (e.g. climate change).
So how can we mentor all girls to participate in STEM/ICT? Here I present a few ideas:
Working towards achieving gender equality in STEM/ICT is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aimed at eliminating poverty, healing our planet, realizing the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
Leaving out girls and women from STEM/ICT education and careers perpetuates gender inequality, limiting the opportunities of girls to access digital learning, better paid jobs, and limiting the opportunities women have in solving the environmental and social challenges of our world.
We need to start changing the narrative and we need to start early. Mentoring girls to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams in STEM/ICT can create long-lasting change.
Photo: SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images