by, Njideka Harry
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Most of us give answers that fall into a small range of careers – options that we saw in our daily lives or read about in stories.
But what if you had been introduced to alternatives as a kid?
What if you found out about cryptology careers just as your obsession with writing secret messages to your best friend was thriving? Or if you experimented with algorithms at the same time you were obsessed with inventing new board games with complex rule sets?
Even if students are already familiar with STEM careers, the prospects may seem intimidating. Jobs in engineering, computer science or the physical sciences certainly aren’t for everyone. But when you break out specific activities that use basic concepts, and give students the opportunity to actually perform tasks, inspiration takes root. This is why the Girls4Tech program is important in places like developing markets in Africa to build on the work my organization – Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) – is already tackling.
We believe that the future belongs to the creators, innovators and people whose ideas and creativity will change our world for good. Engaging girls in making is an empowering experience for women and has the potential to increase their confidence. Evidence shows that effective strategies for engaging girls include hands-on, authentic science explorations tied to personal experiences.
The Girls4Tech model
Girls4Tech, a program run by Mastercard employees in schools across the globe, introduces students to STEM-related career paths through fun, hands-on experiments.Both casual observation and research demonstrates that adolescent girls are more likely than boys to disengage from STEM topics despite strong capabilities and interest in STEM. We’re trying to use the program to help girls discover their capacity for excelling in subjects they may not otherwise gravitate toward.
We are particularly pleased that this program is a piece of a much larger effort, as it aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.The UN doesn’t mince words when it comes to the importance of this work: “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”
Our goal for this partnership with Mastercard is simple: Help girls identify and experiment with STEM-related career paths so students are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will create new socio-economic inequalities as many lower-level skill jobs are lost, affecting both women and men and resulting in a growing sense of individual disempowerment and insecurity. The challenge for women is to invest in improving their skills to stay relevant in the face of change.While Mastercard has operated Girls4Tech across the globe since 2014, this is the first launch in Sub-Saharan Africa. Students in Lagos, Nigeria start Girls4Tech on the first of November, followed by a second launch in Nairobi, Kenya on November 8.
The program targets about 60 children in primary school for a first launch, bringing groups of 5 or 6 students at a time to each workstation. Volunteers show the group the experiment, allowing the students practice solving the problem and then do it themselves.
What’s at stake?
We have hosted girl-centered tech events for many years with YTF programming. From 3D Printing Academy for Girls to Girls in ICT Day, our passion for this type of endeavor runs deep. We are always careful to avoid good intentioned yet misdirected work – to the contrary, its clear programming like Girls4Tech is a critical and immediate need.In many African countries, neither the educational curriculum nor the community encourages girls’ interest in STEM subjects. This lack of persistence in subjects in which the student is truly interested most often results from a lack of positive, strong female role models teaching STEM subjects or working in STEM fields.
It’s not just about getting women jobs in tech; it’s also about building a network and a workforce of women who can support each other in whatever situations they’re in. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
There is also the lingering gender-bias within the educational systems regarding girls and STEM that perpetuates the false perception that girls are not interested in, or capable of succeeding in, STEM fields. Parents even may discourage girls from studying STEM-subjects. Stubbornness and a disregard for societal stereotypes should not be a pre-requisite for studying STEM.
With this lack of role models in the classroom and community, girls are not exposed to STEM education, experiments and ideas, topics, or women who are successful in STEM careers. This environment unfortunately prevents a cultivation of STEM interests, through which girls can explore their abilities and express their creativity, and develop the skills to realize their desire to solve problems and be agents of change.There are myriad data points showcasing this gender gap, but here is a handful of statistics we’re trying to change through programs like Girls4Tech:
- 8 percent of researchers globally are women
- Less than 6 percent of ICT ministers are women
- Female membership of national academies in science and technology disciplines is estimated at about five percent globally (WISAT)
- One percent of women at the global Consumer Electronics Show said they believed that products were designed with women in mind.
- Women make up only 20 percent of the energy sector workforce.
In Kenya – where we’re launching Girls4Tech this month – only six percent of engineers are female.
WEF predicts that it will take 117 years to close the global gender gap as it currently stands. As a mother of three daughters, I feel frustrated that none of my children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren will live to see gender parity.
Beyond personal achievement: It’s economic
The new technologies of the 21st century’s digital age are changing society – the way we communicate, do business, learn and live. These technologies are STEM education-dependent, founded in the science, technology, engineering and math that make digital technology work in the large scale of global computer networks and the small scale of precision parts and tolerances.
Recognizing women’s knowledge and innovations will improve development outcomes overall. Research dictates that if young women, in Nigeria, for instance, had the same employment rates as young men, the country would add $13.9 billion (U.S) annually to their GDP.
What it takes: The big picture
STEM success requires not only access for underserved students but also support for these students in non-traditional curriculum – in programs like Girls4Tech. Students need not just a course of study, but also meaningful encounters with the world of work that demonstrates the STEM-related career possibilities. Students, especially underserved girls, need hands-on experiences with research and the opportunity to interact with successful, same-gender professionals to develop confidence and skills.
Despite daunting statistics and limited resources, it is possible to reengage and reenergize girls’ interest in STEM subjects through learning environments which are academically supportive and psychosocially encouraging, that include:
- Experiential and hands-on learning
- Learning activities with successful women on working in STEM fields
- Mentoring by women working in STEM fields
- Problem-based and solution-oriented learning
- Opportunities to create & deploy practical solutions for real-world problems
Stepping up to the plate
For us, the question is not “who?” but “who else?”
We know the jobs of the 21st century require skills that as many as 60 percent of young people today do not have. We are determined to use programs like Girls4Tech to upskill the future workforce in the skills needed to serve changing industries.
I founded Youth for Technology Foundation in 2000 with a bold idea to use technology to afford youth and women life-changing opportunities, and we have been investing in these communities for many years. We are honored to partner with Mastercard to implement Girls4Tech, an extension of our existing work using technology as inspiration.