“Why do people have curiosity? Why do we care about...things that happened billion years ago, like the big bang, why do we find them interesting? It doesn't affect what we do day-to-day. But nevertheless, once you have curiosity, you can't control it.” Savas Dimopoulos, Particle Fever.
Too many children today are not given the chance to fully explore their own curiosity, and girls especially are constrained. More than 100 million girls around the world are involved in child labor, and despite recent gains, millions more girls than boys remain out of school entirely.
The growth of education programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, demonstrate a critical avenue for female students to explore their own curiosity in a way that can also provide practical economic benefits to students themselves and their communities. The modern workforce increasingly demands STEM knowledge, and many programs throughout CEI’s network are working to prepare girls for this new world.
Take the Technogirls program in South Africa, for example. The group identifies high achieving 15–18 year old girls from disadvantaged communities, especially those coming from rural areas. Many of these girls have not previously been encouraged to study in traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects, but the Technogirls program is countering this by providing resources that help girls make informed career choices with an emphasis on science, technology, and engineering. The girls are placed in corporate mentorship and skills development program where they also benefit from academic scholarships. And now with additional support from UNICEF, South Africa’s Department for Women, Children, and People with Disabilities is scaling up the Technogirls program nationally.
Uganda is another country where girls’ participation in sciences is lower than that of boys, but SchoolNet Uganda is working to change this with its program, Inspiring Science Education for Girls Using ICT. The initiative enhances science teaching and learning for girls in government schools by providing affordable computers, interactive multimedia resources, teacher professional development, advocacy, and hosting extra-curricular events like science-fairs for girls.
In Cambodia, GetSetGo is a 24-hours-a-day library and learning center for under-educated women in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia seeking literacy and language skills to prepare them for entering the formal economy. Through the program, girls and women are able to access computers with regular internet access, e-book readers, and pen-computer-based reading systems that help to prepare women with the technological skills they need to compete in Cambodia’s rapidly modernizing workforce.
To maximize impact, many programs are focused on instilling a passion for science and technology in girls before they reach secondary school age. In Nigeria, the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W-TEC) runs a two-week long Girls’ Technology Camp for girls aged 11-15 yeas old. The camp exposes the girls to cutting-edge information and communication technology in order to stimulate and develop interest in technology among the girls, and encourage them to explore careers in ICT such as computer engineering, programming, system analysis, hardware and network specializations, and design. In addition, the program seeks to encourage women to develop the skills and confidence to use ICTs for activism, learning, awareness-raising, and advocacy for a better quality of life.
In Kenya, the Africa Women in Science and Technology (AWiST) project works to raise engagement and increase the profile of Science and Technology among young girls as well as university students. AWiST visits girls-schools across Kenya to create awareness of and interest in STEM careers, aiming to increase the number of women taking up careers in STEM. At universities they speak at STEM events and encourage female enrollment. In addition to working with students, AWiST supports young professionals, aiming to enable more female scientists and engineers to develop their full potential as STEM professionals, obtain leadership positions, and start their own enterprises.
Biases against women in the fields of science and technology prevent societies throughout the world from reaching their full potential. Thanks to the work of programs like those listed here, many girls are being encouraged to pursue their dreams and curiosities for the first time. The next great inventor or transformative engineer is out there, we just need to make sure that she gets the opportunities she deserves.
Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.
Photo Credit: W.TEC - Women's Technology Empowerment Centre