It's no secret that girls are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Although progress has been made throughout the years, in part due to the support of incredible teachers, there is still room for improvement. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), women make up only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally. Since interest in STEM often starts in primary school, it's incredibly important to provide support for these women early on in life and instil them with the courage to pursue STEM fields. Teachers can no doubt support this work. Here are five ways teachers can help encourage girls to become inspiring women in STEM.
While teachers can be mentors, they can also connect students to mentors - whether that be through connecting them with people they know in the field or researching local organisations who visit schools. Mentoring a student can bring considerable benefits to young girls, giving them the confidence and skills to pursue their interests despite any hardships. Mentors take an active interest in the lives of their mentees and can also help them develop enthusiasm about future careers.
Support or Create Learning Opportunities
More and more, people have noticed the gender disparity in STEM and are doing something about it. For example, Girl Scouts of the USA have begun to make an effort to introduce girls to STEM to help motivate them to pursue careers that are not often thought of for women. With an increase in this shift in thinking, teachers can help support these learning opportunities and even create them themselves if none exist. Teachers can start an after-school or lunch STEM club where young girls who are interested in STEM can find extra learning opportunities. The importance of a supportive network of like-minded people should not be underestimated as the conversations and connections made in these groups can aid in the development of these inspiring women in STEM.
Even without specific clubs, teaching engaging science and maths lessons can provide girls with the spark to pursue a future career in STEM. The PZAZ primary science lesson plans on Pango are perfect for this, blending experiments with engaging lesson content. The CPD videos that accompany every PZAZ science lesson are perfect for allowing teachers to teach science confidently.
Encourage Participation in STEM Workshops
Active participation in STEM workshops outside of schools can also help encourage girls into STEM. Teachers can help by researching opportunities and arranging school trips to STEM-based activities where possible. Encouraging participation in these workshops can help ignite a passion for STEM in girls that they can carry with them throughout school and into their future careers.
Expose Girls to STEM Careers
The reality is that many young girls do not know about all of their options. They may show an interest in some STEM subjects, but if they are not sure what a career in STEM would look like, they will most likely not pursue this interest. To support the sometimes challenging task of encouraging girls into STEM, teachers can provide the resources and knowledge girls need to understand what career options are available to them in STEM - highlighting that there are far more careers in STEM than 'scientist' or 'engineer'. This practical knowledge can help girls realise that a career in STEM is possible, and it can help them become a part of these inspiring women in STEM.
Even the most engaging science and maths lesson can fail in encouraging girls into STEM. If stereotypes are not challenged, many girls will never even view STEM as an option for themselves. Teachers can help challenge harmful stereotypes by providing examples of inspiring women in STEM to young girls. Using resources like this powerpoint from PZAZ in science lessons can help to inspire girls with the stories of other successful women, empowering them to pursue fields that interest them rather than those that are expected of them.
Girls need more inspiring women in STEM to look up to. They also need teachers who can show them that there is a place for them in these fields and that they are capable of anything they set their minds to. With the right tools, encouragement, and support, teachers can help girls everywhere break through the barriers that have been preventing them from achieving their dreams.