Around the world more girls are going to school today than ever before. While just under 40% of women contribute to the global workforce, they make up roughly 60% of all professional workers. However, these numbers fall alarmingly as women enter higher education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). So, this year for International Women’s Day we decided to put a spotlight on underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM.
Why is STEM so important?
This is the era of technology. The world today is highly connected and continuously supplied with cutting edge digital advances. On one hand everyday services from banking to healthcare are digitized. On the other hand the challenges we face from climate change to data protection require sophisticated solutions. As a consumer, a contributor or a little bit of both, how do you acquire the knowledge and skills to navigate through this system? Through STEM. Moreover, STEM is forecasted to drive jobs, innovation and overall wellbeing of people in the future. Decision makers are investing in STEM to transform and diversify economies, and raise the skills level of the regions. STEM is hailed as the ultimate solution to inclusive growth and sustainable development. All while, it continues to leave behind those on the other side of the digital divide, skills gap and glass ceiling, majority of whom are girls and women.
STEM and equality
There are several issues that make it challenging for certain communities to access STEM opportunities. First and foremost is economic disparity. In other words people simply cannot afford it. Teachers, schools and infrastructure (i.e. devices, electricity, internet, etc.) are beyond the reach of these communities.
Another key challenge are cultural barriers and negative stereotypes. Girls and women in particular are restricted from pursuing STEM education and careers for two main reasons. Firstly, professional aspirations are largely dictated by gender oriented traditional thinking. Thus, jobs roles such as scientists, engineers, mathematicians and IT experts are considered as ‘better suited for men’. Secondly, boys are considered to be better at STEM, Math in particular, than girls on average which of course is scientifically proven to be incorrect. However, this line of thinking continues to discourage girls from a young age from pursuing in the fields of STEM.
Furthermore, while a large number of girls and women are breaking barriers and embracing STEM, they are left with little to no support from making careers out of the same. Often the areas they live in and the societies they are part of have not caught up with the aspirations and skills of these trailblazers.
How is Fun Academy making a change?
Our values are inspired by Finland and Finnish education excellence. Promoting equity, equality and diversity is at the core of everything we do. Our mission is to provide the best start to every child, everywhere by empowering teachers. So we constantly search for creative ways to get girls and boys excited about STEAM, embrace lifelong learning and prepare for a future of unexpected challenges. And yes, we added the ‘A’ for ‘Arts’ because we believe STEM benefits from creative and innovative thinking induced by arts. Moreover, we are embracing the idea of adding an ‘R’ for reading into the equation as well. STREAM introduces reading as a core element of discovering new knowledge in STEAM studies.
Our message is simple. Whether you are a girl or a boy, you can become whatever you want in life. Even an Astronaut. What you need is passion, perseverance and support to become the best version of yourself. Following extensive research into the science of learning we developed the Fun Learning approach. Moreover, we created inspiring solutions such as the Future Astronauts Program which is available for free for everyone. However, underrepresentation and undervaluation of girls and women in STEM is not a battle we can fight alone. So we joined hands with organizations from around the world to empower women and girls to be leaders in STEM.
STEM Alliance Week
This Spring, Fun Academy Future Astronauts program was run in parallel with the STEM Alliance Week organized by the office of Congressman Cuellar in collaboration with Texas A&M international University (TAMIU). Congressman Cuellar, an alumni of TAMIU, spoke to the audience full of young middle school girls about how important it is to hold on to your dreams and not give up. He strongly urged them to consider the STEM fields.
Fun Academy spent a week on TAMIU campus with an amazing group of teachers or as we call them Future Astronaut trainers. They studied how to integrate STEM in preschools. Moreover, they explored how they can work together to give the children of the region the quality early childhood education and care they deserve. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, during our week in Laredo, Texas we were honoured to discover this ‘village of institutions and people’. A community collaborating to support girls and women locally to advance in STEM.
“TAMIU and Fun Academy share a common vision of children entering school with the foundational knowledge and skills to be curious, confident and successful learners. This partnership blends local and global best practices, strengthens partnerships with school districts and communities, as well as challenges us to continually innovate for change that improves outcomes for all our learners.”
Dr. James O’Meara – Dean of the College Of Education
Texas A&M International University
STEM alliance in Texas
- Texas A&M international University – Providing knowledge, skills training and continuous professional development in STEM to both students and educators.
- Early Learning Center in Laredo College – Provide quality care for children from Laredo and the surrounding communities leading to development of the “whole” child.
- MOS Branch Library of the Laredo Public Library – Serving the community with STREAM where reading is the core element in STEAM studies and explorations. MOS Branch also creates opportunities to talk with parents, and provides inspiring content.
- PreK4SA – Full-day prekindergarten programs providing high-quality prekindergarten education through 4 centers in the city of San Antonio.
- Educators such as Margarita “Yuyu” Molano – She is excited to see how to bring elements of the Future Astronaut program into her art classes.
- Puerto Educativo – Serving the Mexican community, now offering Fun Learning opportunities in the Outlet Shoppes at Laredo. Also aims to serve parents with guidance on how to support their children in wellbeing and learning
- Imaginarium – A children’s museum and informal science center where kids can learn through play, exploration and taking part in cool activities.
What more can we do?
The Fun Learning global community set up by Fun Academy gives teachers and children alike access to the world. We aim to work together toward better education and toward an understanding of the world, toward celebration of diversity and seeing how we all can come together for the best of our children and the future.
Empowering girls and women to pursue education and careers in STEAM requires far more than individual effort. It needs to be a national and global priority. Individuals, schools, universities, decision makers, businesses and community leaders must join hands to create an enabling environment. We must celebrate diversity and role models representing marginalized sections of our society.