STEM education for girls toward the economic empowerment and reduce the gender gap

Quality education and gender equity are the most important of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). To make our mother earth more habitat, we all have responsibilities. I am amazed to hear from a kiddie scientist, 11 years old girl Geetanjali Rao “it’s kind of like boy colors and girl colors. I think that it really shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t be like science is a boy subject and language arts is a girl subject” in her video documentary after winning America’s top young scientist award for her invention of a water testing device. She also mentioned that she is going to invest to improve the device and make it available for more people and ensure safe water for them. According to UIS (Unesco Institute for Statistics) data, “less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women.” Based on the statistics on South Asia’s female in STEM career is not fair. To develop the women economic empowerment, female leadership and participation in decision making are significant of gender friendly policy-making and implementation.

Bangladesh established her name in the Cricket world, faster-growing economy and incredibly one of a leading country in gender equality among the South Asian countries for the third consecutive years, ranked by The World Economic Forum. In Gender Gap Index of 2017 shows that Bangladesh’s overall success in four key areas; education, economic participation, health, and political empowerment. However, when we talk about gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education; are they on track to progress or we do think seriously to continue our economic growth to reach the targets set out in the SDGs by 2030? The Daily Star Newspaper report by Amitava Kar gives me a positive impression “in Dhaka University, about 30-40 percent students in physics and chemistry are female. In the biological sciences and medical education, the number is an astonishing 60 percent.” Moreover, in other universities’, girls’ participation on average. It seems quality education for girls are not bad at all, but the whole country’s picture especially out of metropolitan city areas school-level participation is not that well enough or we may need to rethink about education system for female participation in STEM learning and job environment to lead their economic empowerment.

While the world is transforming to the digital economy and technology-based enterprises, it is necessary to increase the ratio of girls’ participation in STEM field for sustainable growth.  Women in Bangladesh actively participate in economic growth through their entrepreneurial skills and labor force. However, in science and technology enterprises like software development company, outsourcing, research for energy solution products, recycling, environment-friendly products design and find the solution for environmental sustainability in all these areas men are more on percentages than the women. It is encouraging, Bangladesh is using solar power in rural areas to reduce poverty and majority of women are participating as technicians and entrepreneurs to run home-based technology centers. ILO Green Jobs programme and Grameen Shakti (GS) are promoting women in technology-based enterprise and skilled labor to develop their economic empowerment. Women are performing the vital role to transform Bangladesh’s economic growth from lower income country to lower middle-income country and to make it more efficient need the equal participation of female in the leadership role. Promoting STEM education for girls is one of the essential ways to get more skilled women in STEM career, entrepreneurs, and experts.

Around the world, countries are encouraging girls in STEM education to minimize the social inequality between gender, establish social peace and propel sustainable development. The Australian government has developed strategies to build their next generation as skilled newfangled workforce, who can lead the country with new technology and make better solution through science and mathematical knowledge. They encourage STEM education at early learning stage and they have ‘Primary Connections’ program which is a great initiative to encourage kids in STEM field. Schools, universities, private and public sectors all are working to promote girls study in STEM career and innovative entrepreneurship. There are many supportive organisations and programs for girls’ STEM education such as Women in STEMM Australia, The Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program supported by the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE) grant program helps to increase entrepreneurship in STEM field, Office for Women has many activities and telling the story of ‘Women Science Superstars’ to motivate girls in STEM education. Role models like quantum physics professor Michelle Simmons who has been named Australian of the Year 2018 for her world-leading research in the “space race of the computing era” make an influence to encourage young women to learn STEM.

Girls and young women participation in education have globally improved in recent decades, though access to education depending on regions and countries. According to the UNESCO report, “globally, in 2014, gender parity was achieved in primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education.” But the gender disparities in STEM education is still notable, especially in the developing world. To empower the women through technology science and education UNESCO is working collaboratively with the United States mission on “WiSci STEAM Camp” project from 2015 in African countries. All over the world developed and developing countries are focussing on STEM education for young women to bring the social justice and inclusion.

Promoting STEM education for girls need to consider the factors such as family awareness, education system and curricular, role model, media and most importantly ignore the stereotypical gender attitudes. The role models can easily influence to motivate girls’ and young women’s in STEM learning and the current technological era is an effective way to encourage them to pursue STEM career and innovative entrepreneurship. Bangladeshi girls and young women have already become idol in STEM career and research field, for instance, Dr. Hasibun Naher associate professor of mathematics, BRAC University has won the 2018 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Awards for her work in nonlinear partial differential equations, another renowned young researcher Ayesha Arefin, currently doing doctoral in nano-science at University of New Mexico has contributed to invent the artificial human lung and there are many more heroes who are enlightening the nation to their awesome ideas and efforts.

Access to education for girls in Bangladesh has made a great achievement over the last two decades. Government is doing remarkable activities to ensure girls education at school levels but still not much participation in science and tertiary level education. Despite the overall situation women are moving forward in STEM field and gradually increasing. There are some private and non-profit organizations contributing magnificently to their projects and broad activities to promote girls’ STEM education and innovation. Bangladesh Mathematical Olympiad is one of the incredible initiatives to promote maths in school and college students. There are many success stories of girls like Nazia Chowdhury who participated in International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) and achieved awards. They made role models and contributing to change our social stigma. Science cartoonist Nasreen Sultana Mitu is doing an incredible job to engage more girls in STEM education through her ‘Project Tiktaalik’. Bangladesh Open Source Network (BdOSN) has many programs just as ‘Missing Daughter’ to assist young women in following their passion for STEM education and career. UNESCO globally supports more than120 countries to advance gender equality in STEM education and Bangladesh actively participate in making a better environment for girls’ education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Women are creative and they will contribute more in the green economy if they get a better opportunity to learn STEM and I hope more women will participate in this field to make a sustainable world for a future generation.

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Naiyer Fatema is a financial inclusion specialist and women economic empowerment activist. She experienced working with the financial organizations in Bangladesh and designed some financial products for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SME). She is a business graduate and a Masters in Development Studies (MDS). Currently, she facilitates programs in Digital Spaces in Adelaide to support communities taking the advantage of emerging technologies and new opportunities. Naiyer is an International Exchange Alumni of the U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and a member of the Development Network, New Zealand.
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