Building STEM Mindsets For The Future

While new technologies increasingly change the landscape of work and learning, new skills like creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and digital fluency become vital. The future of work is anchored by technology, and yet, women continue to lag behind men with regard to their access to technology, the skills to use it, and their employment in tech or related industries.

STEM in traditional terms is defined as Science, Technology, Engineering, Math — a group of subjects taught in silos in our existing school system. There is a need to move beyond this siloed approach and look at STEM as a mindset important to build 21st century skills and prepare young people for the future.

But why is STEM important?

The sustainability of the modern world depends on STEM. The education system, the food production, transportation, manufacturing — all aspects of our security, our economy, our health, our lives — it’s all supported and driven by science, technology, engineering and math. STEM is critical from 3 perspectives in the 21st century:

  1. Prepares for the future of life and work – STEM is critical to successfully navigate and participate effectively in the future. A STEM mindset is vital to becoming conscious, aware and compassionate citizens driven by scientific temperament.
  2. Utility of science in everyday life – implying the relation of science and application of science in everyday life, thus making the STEM teaching-learning process more inclusive; situated in the context of the learner.
  3. STEM for promoting global sustainability agenda – Along with environmental sustainability, each of the SDGs require an application of the STEM mindset to fuel research and innovation which drives equity.

Why STEM for Girls? 

80% of jobs in the future will require STEM. Thus it is imperative for us to prepare young girls to be able to take up these careers of the future.  STEM is an area which drives research and innovation. If we don’t bring more women in STEM we miss out on the perspectives of 50% of the world’s population with respect to what problems need to be solved and how equitable solutions should be built.

Addressing girls’ STEM education in India is paramount in driving change against gender disparities of women in the workforce. If girls have 21st century technical skills inclusive of digital fluency, coding skills and a sense of agency to pursue a career in STEM, they will grow up to be confident enough to negotiate through their ecosystem and make more empowered choices. 

With the IBM STEM for Girls initiative Quest Alliance and IBM are working towards cultivating STEM as a mindset for 200,000 girls in government high schools. A mindset which empowers young learners to become changemakers, driving social change for themselves and the communities around them. The STEM mindset is about becoming critical thinkers, problem solvers, experimenting and challenging status quo. In this mindset, technology is used as a tool for creation and not for mere consumption.

It’s a common stereotype that computers, coding, and technology are for men. Some even go further by claiming that girls and women are simply not designed for STEM. Our mission is to make girls comfortable working with computers and technology.

This initiative works towards breaking gendered notions of STEM workspaces, equipping girls for jobs and “new collar” careers of the future driven by technology, and also enabling more and more girls in government secondary schools to continue education and pursue STEM pathways. 

Our latest a white paper — Engaging Girls In STEM: Barriers And Enablers In India — focuses on the need to re-imagine STEM beyond a group of subjects to a 21st century mindset, and highlights the role of key stakeholders and infrastructure needed to enable girls to pursue STEM education and careers.

What is the IBM STEM for Girls Initiative?

STEM for Girls is an initiative by IBM in India to improve education and career pathways for girls in government high schools. In partnership with state governments, the program is investing in the empowerment of young women with training in STEM fields, to counter gender disparities in the country. Having identified the need to cater to this often-neglected area within the education sector, the program has designed a new in-school-curriculum that is currently implemented in 900+ govt. high schools in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan and Telangana. The comprehensive approach builds technical capabilities, as well as life and self-actualization skills, to meet 21st-century challenges.

IBM’s partners Quest Alliance and American Indian Foundation Trust are working together taking this program to government schools in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. In the current situation of COVID-19, we are working on tailoring our existing curriculum online owing to the digital divide. The focus will continue to enable girls by the end of 2021 through 21st century skills building, STEM learning, computational thinking, and self-actualization, to increase their access to better career opportunities.

IBM also understands that to drive change with young women it requires the whole ecosystem to come together. Thus, the program also focuses on working with key stakeholders who influence these young girl’s life journeys – parents and teachers. 

The STEM For Girls program is committed to improve the skills of young girls and boys who are in schools across India. The program also aims to equip these girls with the skills they need to make a difference to communities in which they live and the world at large—solving challenges and driving stewardship with good tech.

Written by:

Jasbir Kaur

STEM for Girls, India Lead, IBM

Neha Parti

Associate Director – Secondary School, Quest Alliance

Author: thelearnerbyquest

Quest Alliance's space for reflection on the education sector

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