Can classroom tech address the STEM shortage?
According to recent figures from the Department for Education, the number of girls with STEM-related A Levels has increased by 5.5% year on year, growing by over 25% since 2010. This is undoubtedly a positive step, but more needs to be done by the technology industry to help educators and academics bridge the gap between the number of boys and girls taking STEM subjects.
While percentages may have increased, the actual numbers behind them tell a very different story. Official figures show that only a third of UK students that took A-Level ICT in 2017 were female, some 20% lower than in 2016. What’s more, just a quarter of female university graduates have a degree in a STEM subject, highlighting the need for more visibility around STEM careers at all levels of education.
What is the root cause of the issue?
A recent study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that male dominance and low confidence are amongst the main reasons why female students don’t take up STEM subjects. In order to ease these social pressures, girls need more female role models who can help inspire, motivate and explain what STEM jobs and studies entail.
In truth, there are a number of highly respected female executives at a host of the world’s best-known companies. Some of the most innovative and successful businesses are headed up by female CEOs, or have a sizeable female presence on their boards. There are many big brands that have female CEOs and other C-suite executives which hold university degrees in a range of STEM-focused subjects, demonstrating that there are, in fact, a host of role models for younger girls to follow.
However, while a number of public figures can clearly be considered to be role models, many of these people are unable to drive change on their own; it requires a group effort. But with the right technology, such as distance learning solutions within classrooms, it becomes possible to make effective use of any role model’s time and bring their story to life in a secure and personal environment over the internet, helping to break down the stereotypes about specific jobs or careers.
Where does technology fit in?
Some schools and universities are now using collaboration technology to connect students with industry specialists and educators who may not be available for face-to-face teaching. Distance learning can be used to inspire future generations to change the world.
Collaboration technology, such as video conferencing, offers educators the best opportunity to capture and retain the interest around STEM of more students at a younger age. An example of a school doing this well is the Highlands Ranch in Colorado uses a range of technology to make STEM subjects more accessible to younger girls.
How did STEM School Highlands Ranch achieve this?
STEM School Highlands Ranch has deployed a range of collaboration and audio/visual solutions to power its distance offering, helping its students benefit from expert opinion and tuition from across the world. Such solutions are creating a two-way offering. In this particular case, for example, it allows industry experts to share their knowledge with the next generation and scout out potential future employees, while ensuring that more students can benefit from time with relevant role models. All the while, young people and role models are brought together by technology, helping to prepare students for the digital world that lies ahead of them.
Such solutions have enabled the school to retain their students’ interest in STEM subjects. In fact, at Polycom’s recent Women in AV event, the audience heard from a number of students, Gitanjali Rao who, at only 12 years old, was awarded the highly coveted Young Scientist of the Year prize for developing a portable water quality test.
The UK, and indeed the rest of the world, should follow suit and introduce initiatives for students to interact with educators and role models to enhance their understanding of and interest in STEM careers. Not only can this help demystify perceptions and stereotypes, but it can also ensure that females are represented in classrooms, boardrooms and entrepreneur lists. By acknowledging the role that females can play in building our digital and science skills, gender diversity can be addressed and businesses can remain competitive.
With a diverse and inclusive set of STEM graduates, it becomes possible to increase innovation, by having a host of interpretations, varied inputs and skills sets combining to achieve a common goal. To achieve this, business leaders must partner with educators to use distance learning to highlight the important roles which women play within organisations and positioning them as role models. Without them, change will be extremely difficult.