In August, the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the UK examined girls’ participation in STEM subjects. Recent GCSE results showed comparable STEM participation for girls and boys, but at A levels, girls were only awarded 43% of all grades in STEM (despite taking 22% more A levels overall).1 The IFS investigated the cause of this gap – what is preventing girls from pursuing STEM subjects in A levels after successfully undertaking them in their GCSEs?
The issue, they found, isn’t that girls were physically excluded from participation, rather they anticipated a lack of inclusion in potential STEM study and future careers. In the IFS study, girls strongly agreed with the statement ‘I often worry that it will be difficult for me in physics classes’. Similarly, a significant deterrent is the lack of perceived representation of women in STEM careers, with two thirds of female respondents vocalising their concern that STEM careers are ‘male dominated’.
Confidence seems to be the missing factor in getting girls from STEM GCSEs to A levels and beyond. 80% of teachers expressed the belief that ‘these girls are just as able, but not as confident in their ability to learn STEM subjects as boys.’ So what can be done? One Guardian article recommends the government do more to compile data on girls’ STEM involvement as well as bolster appropriate careers guidance. There is, however, a relatively direct and actionable way to get more STEM representation in schools: the Edtech already being used in schools should be responsible for aiding these efforts. Edtech platforms help students by providing learning tools and assessment processes, but can’t they do more? Shouldn’t they carry some pastoral responsibility towards those children they’re educating?
We certainly think so. The lack of female representation in the digital sector is something we explicitly sought to address as part of our new free CPD training for teachers. The digital sector is an ever growing cornerstone of the labour market yet, as the House of Commons’ Digital Skills Crisis Report found, only 17% of technical roles in the UK are held by women. We wanted to provide teachers a means to encouraging their female students towards careers in technology. Through the programme, teachers learn about skills students require to achieve success in the digital sector, so that they may nurture these skills in their students.
In regard to visible women leaders in the digital sector, CENTURY is proud to be an Edtech company that practices what we preach. CENTURY was founded by social impact entrepreneur Priya Lakhani O.B.E., who is constantly pushing the boundaries of technology’s capacity to create social change. The platform is informed by extensive cognitive neuroscience research – contributed in large part by Senior Cognitive Neuroscientist Alice Little. CENTURY is powered by a dedicated team of women and men – but it’s great to know that when girls use the platform for STEM subject revision, they’re interacting with something built in part by female tech innovators – that something they use everyday exemplifies the positive power of women in tech. Geoff Barton, who contributed to our CPD courses as an expert advisor, explains that ‘the more you can build a relationship with [tech companies]’ the more students can profit from seeing ‘the real human dimension which you wouldn’t otherwise’. Girls can look towards these examples of tech innovators and think ‘this is the job for me.’ This is absolutely a sector for girls to aspire to, and furthermore one where they have great potential to make a positive impact. We just need to be showing, not telling, them so. CENTURY’s Francesca Ooi, who represented the team at a recent WomenEd conference explains, ‘we are training teachers across age groups and subjects to be digital leaders. Using tech enhances most other areas of our lives so why not teaching and learning. Developing female teachers as digital role models shows students the diversity of areas tech leaders can come from.’