Young women must be fully supported to take part in STEM education

Opening the event Mr Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education, said: “There is growing awareness that enhancing girls’ participation and performance in STEM subjects is crucial not only to enhancing girls’ learning opportunities and overall educational attainment but also to empowering them to be able to meet requirements of the labour market for diverse skills and competencies, and to become agents of change and contribute to building equitable, fair and sustainable societies. STEM education can also lead to fostering girls'/women's confidence, which I think is quite an important foundation of their empowerment.”

The discussion highlighted the importance of promoting gender equality through STEM education and discussed the need for motivated STEM female teachers, institutionalizing gender training for teachers, as well as systematic gender reviews of STEM policies, curricula and pedagogy in youth education.

The panel was chaired by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Dr Hayat Sindi; Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof, Director General of Education, Ministry of Education, Malaysia; Dr Florence Tobo Lobé, President, Rubisadt Foundation, Cameroon; H.E. Mrs Crystal Nix-Hines, Ambassador, Permanent Delegation of the USA to UNESCO, and Mr Gwang-Jo Kim, Director, UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education (UNESCO Bangkok). They were joined by representatives from member states, international experts, practitioners and advocates for gender quality and STEM education.

Ambassador Nix-Hines said: “One of the challenges for us is to figure out how we can activate girls at an earlier age and then give them the support systems that they need to continue their learning through school. It is disturbing to see that as young women go through the educational system, the numbers continue to drop. We need to build in those support systems, and I believe we can find mentors around the world who would do that for them.”

Despite significant achievements in gender parity at secondary education level and in governments’ commitment to promoting gender equality in education, there is still a significant gender gap worldwide in the number of women pursuing college degrees and careers in STEM fields.

Dr Florence Tobo Lobé said: “We want to tell them from the start, from the youngest age and even those girls who are in secondary school, that you must have dreams. What are your dreams? You could be innovators. You are innovators when you acquire knowledge, transformed into abilities and when you say I can solve problems for my society and the whole world.“

STEM projects coordinated by UNESCO include: Strengthening STEM Curricula for Girls in Africa and Asia and the Pacific (2015-2017, coordinated by IBE-UNESCO, supported by Malaysia); Girls and Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Asia (2014-2015, coordinated by UNESCO Bangkok, supported by Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI)), and Gender-Sensitive Training of Teachers and School Principals for Girls’ and Women’s Access, Participation and Advancement in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (2011-2014, coordinated by UNESCO Nairobi and Windhoek, supported by GEMS Foundation).

Building on the successful launching and implementation of the above projects, the discussion was concluded by identifying opportunities for UNESCO to better support Member States in enhancing gender-sensitive STEM education for adolescent girls.