The Importance of STEM for Girls and How to Motivate Them
As our society advances toward a more technologically advanced lifestyle, it’s clearer than ever that we need more women in STEM for a variety of reasons.
There are more STEM positions than men can possibly fill, and we can’t ignore the fact that the advancements in science that men make aren’t always tailored to meet the needs of women, as well. Frequently this can be harmful or even life-threatening.
Yet, statistics show that women’s interest and comfort with STEM decrease with age. Sadly, at an adult age, women’s egos have already solidified and they may have already established their career path in a different field. In many cases, it may be hard or even impossible to bring back their willingness to work in STEM.
Thus, to make a massive-scale impact, we need to start at a much earlier age. We need to make STEM for girls more accessible and eradicate the factors that discourage them.
How to Encourage Girls’ Interest in STEM?
1. Expose Girls to Role Models in STEM
Marian Wright Edelman, an American children’s rights activist and the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund once said: “You cannot be what you cannot see.” And this quote is extremely true when it comes to STEM for girls.
While we know and learn about men in STEM and the impact they’ve had on the development of humanity, there have always been women in STEM who have gone against all odds, gender discrimination, and great societal pressure to pursue their passions.
Though few, there are famous women in STEM without whom some advancements in science may have never happened. Yet, for a variety of reasons their male counterparts received most recognition and were associated with the final success. However, we rarely hear or learn about them. But we should.
We frequently connect with historical figures, famous people, and fictional characters and use them as role models to inspire us to pursue our dreams. Yet, we cannot be inspired by people we don’t know of.
Therefore, to make STEM for girls less foreign, we need to make sure that they learn about female role models in STEM.
2. Drop Gender Stereotypes
There is no denial and STEM skills are becoming increasingly important for the future job market. And even now, we absolutely need more women in STEM. There is a growing surplus of unfilled STEM jobs, and science needs more female perspective and participation to make fields like medicine safer for women.
Nonetheless, rather than encouraging STEM for girls, society keeps encouraging the gender gap. We say things like “you throw like a girl” as an insult, teaching children that doing something like a girl is wrong or despicable.
As a result, as early as by the age of 6 girls learn gender stereotypes. That has a negative impact on their choices and confidence.
Instead, we should focus on building their confidence. We need to teach girls that their input is needed in STEM and that society couldn’t advance without them as fast as it could.
3. Teach How STEM Can Be Applied In Real Life
In recent years, a variety of studies have focused on employees’ job satisfaction. Curiously, they’ve concluded that job satisfaction is primarily affected by the level of recognition employees get at work.
People care about their work being meaningful and making a difference in the world. The opposite can negatively affect our overall happiness levels.
We spend at least a third of our life at work. So, it makes sense that doing work that we perceive as meaningless would make us feel meaningless in other aspects of our life.
What does it have to do with girls an STEM?
Like any human, girls want to make an impact on society and do something that is meaningful. Yet, STEM subjects are frequently seen as pointless or useless. (Notice how the author of the second article sadly is a woman?)
Combined with the social programming that STEM is for boys, it makes girls see STEM programs as something that is nor for them.
Yet, this is further from the truth. Not only STEM skills are going to be crucial in future jobs, but they can also be used in day-to-day life. The subjects aren’t the problem, the way they are taught is.
Therefore, girls must learn how they can apply STEM in real life and how that can help them make a difference in the world.
4. Make STEM Classes More Collaborative… But Not Too Collaborative
A study in the UK pointed out that girls learn and consolidate their knowledge as well as come up with new ideas better when collaborating.
However, teachers need to be careful not to make classes simply a string of collaborative activities. Girls need to work on their own as well.
Thus, the ideal learning environment should always be a mixture of both – collaborative and individual work.
5. Try All Girls Classes
The same study emphasized the idea of same-sex classes. While unpopular and frequently considered old-school, this approach may actually make a significant impact on how well girls perform in STEM.
The reasons for girls being intimidated by STEM and underperforming in STEM subjects are societal. Instead of helping girls learn skills that will help them succeed in the job market, the society strips them off of the confidence they need and instead teaches them to worry about their body image before they even start school.
Girls aren’t acting “like girls” simply because they are girls but rather because they are taught to do so.
All-girls classes can create a judgment-free environment where girls do not need to worry about their image and what boys think of them but purely focus on learning. This could help them regain their confidence in STEM and not lose their passion for it.
What are your thoughts? How can we motivate girls to engage in STEM? How can we make STEM for girls less intimidating? Feel free to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and share your thoughts! It’s time we tackle these issues together.