Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Girls and women are still subject to prejudice, biases, social norms and expectations when it comes to pursuing education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The UNESCO groundbreaking report Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM states that only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. In higher education, the percentage of females who choose Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) studies stands at 3%.
In 2015, UNESCO picked a yearly calendar day i.e. February 11th, to celebrate Women in Science. On February 11 2021, DEL4ALL (Digital Education for All) hosted a World Café Webinar with more than 30 educational experts and participants in the fields of emerging technologies of education to celebrate the day as well as share their knowledge on the matter.
Digital Transformation and Gender Equality
In her opening speech, Deputy Head of EU DG Connect, Dr Anne Bajart, said that once she took on the job, she started paying heed to the discrepancy in the gender statistics. She soon realised the effort required to have girls pursue STEM subjects and support them in these careers.
In 2017, 72 percent of teachers in the education sector were women. While the percentage looks high, there is a caveat. Women were the less confident gender when it came to implementing ICT tools in the classroom. She added that role models in these sectors were still missing for girls and students even though movies and tv series today portrayed more engineers and scientists played by women.
CEO of Martel Innovate, Dr Monique Calisti said that the objectives of DEL4ALL were about making sure girls and students were in possession of the right digital skills, especially in the context of remote working and schooling. There is an awareness that soft skills are highly needed. People who are capable of inspiring and conveying all soft skills should be able to communicate even when digital technology is not at their disposal.
The Pursuit of Science
Senior Manager of EU Public Affairs at Huawei, Angeliki Dedopolou stated that in an era where information and knowledge is available to everyone thanks to digital technologies, it was still hard to navigate the world of correct information during the pandemic. Yet, thanks to the remarkable efforts made by Scientific research and the researchers themselves, a vaccine was developed in less than a year after the pandemic outbreak. This proves that the world’s evolution and sustainability hinges on the continuous development of Science and Technology.
Business Development Executive for Hyland Credentials and Anthropologist, Natalie Smolenski said that in a world acclimatised by the agnosticism of truth, Science is the only language of truth that is not subjective. Perrine de Coetlogon, Advocate of Blockchain and Open Education at the University of Lille said that everyone can argue in Open Science but then there are Scientific facts based on empirical evidence that one cannot argue against.
Emerging Technologies and the Future
In terms of emerging technologies, Carmen Holotescu, Director of the Open centre for Open Education and Blockchain at Ioan Slavici, University of Timisoara said that in the last months, due to the pandemic, the world has become a large university where everyone is learning and upgrading their skills. Educational technology should push us to become active participants in a community of learners and practice.
Innovation Programme Officer for the Training Centre of the ILO, Alessia Messuti, claimed that digital technologies as well as the use of data tracking and analytics are a testimony to the build up of a digital ecosystem for ILO. This has permitted them to work on a consolidated set of quality criteria by which they can measure learning journeys through the tracking of results of their educational efforts and its impact.
Angeliki took a different angle to the debate. Digital tech needs to be deployed differently if it intends to be more inclusive. While 80 percent of students in the EU and other first world countries have access to education because of high internet connectivity, in third world countries this percentage was reduced to 50. Low connectivity leads to limited education. This has significantly increased the divide between high-income and low-income families.
Self-Sovereignty or Tech Utopianism?
Regarding self-sovereignty in digital technologies, Natalie said that technologies of power like Blockchain permit the individual to determine when and how they self-disclose information. The ability for an individual to self-custody their digital identity and their digital credentials cannot be ignored by the forces of a corporation or state.
Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, Athina Karatzogianni stated that this ‘technology utopianism’ in which Digital Ledger Technologies are going to save private identity, can be misleading. There is no proof of what they can do once they are released in the wild. The world out there is still controlled by corporate companies and there are no certainties of where this technology will be steered.
The Way Forward
Empowerment, Creativity, Endurance and Competence were all key terms associated with Women in STEM Careers. Women pursuing ICT related courses and ICT related professions will not only address the generational gap in professions globally but will help stop those naysayers from telling women how hard a profession in Science or ICT is. Women need to be told that STEM careers will be more fun with them in it.
Being able to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’ is another interesting concept to take on in a world where lifelong learning should shape the future. Falling in love with questions and problems rather than answers and solutions could also be a way forward. Being a woman in male-dominated work sectors requires a lot of bouncing back as well as becoming more stubborn. It is also important to understand when to give up some of the power held to converse, trade and negotiate with others.