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What’s up with girls and STEM?

What’s up with girls and STEM?

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YESTERDAY, THE Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) announced the winners in a recent ‘Girls in ICT’ activity which was observed this year under the theme ‘Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Futures’. (see story https://searchlight.vc/news/2021/06/22/ectel-announces-winners-of-its-girls-in-ict-day-contest/)

#GirlsinICT International ‘Girls In ICT’ Day is commemorated each year to build awareness about the gender digital divide, support technology education and skills training, and encourage more girls and young women to actively pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

But why do we still have to encourage girls to pursue careers in these fields when multiple studies around the world, including here the Caribbean and in St Vincent and the Grenadines, indicate that girls continue to outperform boys in school at all levels, including having higher levels of enrolment at the tertiary level. The only area where there appears to be some semblance of gender parity is in the sciences where the performance of boys and girls is on par; and in mathematics where boys outperform girls by one or two percentage points, according to analysis on regional CSEC results.

But despite girls outnumbering boys in academia and returning similar results in the sciences and mathematics, when it comes to pursuing careers, girls have not been pursuing STEM careers in as large numbers as have their brothers. Girls on the science track at the CAPE level have tended to move towards careers in the medical field or education, but are grossly under-represented in fields like engineering, computer science, technology, scientific research, etc.

At the special ‘Girls in ICT’ activity forum held by ECTEL recently, one of the more impressive presentations was made by Janique-ka John, a Vincentian software engineer working in Brussels. Janique-ka spoke about being surrounded by and using computers from a very young age, but even so, not visualising herself in an information technology career until just before beginning her undergraduate degree. She therefore stressed the need to be intentional with our messaging and imagery in order for more girls to be attracted to professions in these fields.

How many women do our girls see when they are growing up, who are admired and respected by others in society, whose job involves wearing a hard-hat and getting her hands dirty, and who spends all day outdoors or in an industrial setting? Can they identify by name or face, a software programmer or aeronautical engineer who started where they are and who has now achieved success? We must eliminate from our vocabulary expressions like “Girls don’t think like that” or “It’s a man’s job” or “That job is too rough for a woman”. It is important that our girls find mentors so that they would have real- life female representations of the career they aspire to and who would serve as inspiration and guides.

We must remove gender stereotypes from all careers. Thankfully, in today’s globally interconnected world, finding inspiration online and networking is easier than it ever was. Parents and teachers these days are more enlightened than they were a generation ago and should support and nurture children’s interests and passions so that they end up in careers that energise and inspire rather than jobs that drain and depress.

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