2021’s International Day of the Girl highlights our digital generation

Monday, October 11 is the International Day of the Girl and the theme for 2021 is Digital Generation. Our Generation.

The Day of the Girl was declared by the UN in 2012 and aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face and promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. UNICEF, a UN agency supporting children, notes that gender equity in digital literacy, if it were achieved, would be a driver of economic growth and offer a competitive business and national advantage.

As a girls’ school, Lauriston has a responsibility to ensure that our students are well prepared to make a contribution to the economic future of our country, but also to break down gender barriers and create a future where there is greater equity between men and women.

Powering girls’ potential

Globally the percentage of females among STEM graduates is below 15% in over two-thirds of countries, and only 22% of Artificial Intelligence (AI) professionals on a global perspective are female.

The Invergowrie Foundation of which I am a member of the Board of Trustees, has as its primary focus the advancement of education for girls and women within Victoria. The Foundation has a current focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with a view to increasing the engagement of girls and building their confidence and capabilities in this area. We have commissioned two roadmap reports for girls in STEM, the first being Girls’ Future- Our Future which was published in 2017 which was followed by an updated report in 2020. 

The STEM gap

There is a ‘leaky pipeline’ for females entering into the STEM workforce, both at school level and in the later working lives of females who choose to discontinue their participation in STEM. While the representation of women in areas such as mathematics, statistics, engineering, computer and physical sciences remains low when compared with males, in the health and life sciences, female participation is greater than males.

There are myriad reasons why fewer girls pursue STEM subjects at school and move into STEM related careers after tertiary studies and these have their base in social and cultural influences, gender and self-efficacy. 

Research indicates that children’s interest in science and STEM needs to begin in the Kindergarten years with enriching learning environments and excursions to parks, zoos and museums. The educators play an important role in enabling a basic STEM understanding and development of skills through exploration, observation, inferring, questioning and reasoning. In these early years, girls will begin to develop positive STEM identities.

These positive experiences in mathematics, science and STEM need to be mirrored in the primary years when experiences in literacy, numeracy, science and technology can be utilized to communicate to our girls that they are capable and successful. 

As girls enter into the secondary years of their education, their levels of self-confidence in Mathematics, Science and Technology should continue to develop. The view that males do better in these subject disciplines is deeply rooted in social and cultural norms which need to be shifted by families who can influence their daughters to pursue their interests in STEM and through teachers and impactful learning experiences which inspire students and instill in them positive views about these subject areas and their ability to achieve well in them. 

Role models in STEM provide another area of inspiration for girls who can listen to and interact with females who have chosen careers in areas generally populated by males. Career advice to our girls during their school years can also have a positive influence on their tertiary courses and career interests. 

STEM early learning

At Lauriston we begin our STEM experiences in the Kindergarten, through their pre-numeracy activities, science activities and projects, and also through opening our Digital Fabrication Laboratory for the children to undertake making activities. Our focus is on developing a strong foundation and communicating to their children that girls and boys are capable and confident in STEM related topics.

We have a well-developed digital technologies and digital fabrication curriculum from Prep to Year 6 which continues to change as the skills of our girls grow. Our Prep students will begin by designing a home for a toy while and create a sequence of steps for a BeeBot to travel in the shape of 3D numbers. Our Years 5 and 6 students will be programing Ev3 robots in a robot dance, using sensors or learning how to use Micro:bits. 

Year 7 and 8 students can choose electives such a Technology- Fall Fast, Fall Forward, or Make the Machines. Our Year 10 students can choose from electives in Philosophy, STEM: Aviation and Space Science or STEM: Systems Engineering. 

Our intention through Science, Mathematics, Digital Technologies and the use of our Digital Fabrication Laboratory is to build capability and confidence for each girl. Our girls do need to continue to build their confidence in Mathematics and Science where they need to develop resilience in not always getting the ‘right answer’. 

Breaking down barriers

We are trying to break down some of the societal barriers and stereotypes about females in STEM related careers. We know that future growth areas in the workforce lie in digital technologies and STEM related work and our students need to be prepared to pursue studies that will lead them into these areas of the workforce. 

We also know that our girls will more than likely have up to 17 jobs across at least five industries in their careers. They will be re-training in their workplaces and also looking for new career opportunities, therefore, the skills and capabilities we can develop at school will support our students to follow more diverse fields in the future. 

Susan Just, Principal