Closing Digital and Gender STEAM Gaps: Full Steam Ahead

The summer UK A Level results illustrated that gender equality are having a huge impact on the digital skills gaps. Of all of the exam subjects. Computing saw the biggest popularity jump in entrants, rising by 23.9% since last year. However, a staggering 88% of all students were male – meaning only 12% of Computing students were female. Not only does this illustrate the issue with STEM recruitment in schools, but it bodes poorly for the UK’s future digital workforce.

I interviewed Jade Parkinson-Hill, Founder of the Steam School and STEAM Leader for the GEC Futures Project to see what we can all do to help close both gender and digital gaps in STEM.

Launched at the beginning of January 2018, Steam School has introduced schools to a wide variety of STEAM role models including US based Astronaut Abby, Craig Fenton, Director for Strategy and Operations at Google UK & Ireland, Pepper the Companion Robot and digital entrepreneur, Hannah Anderson, co-founder of Social Chain.

What do you think about this report?

 

I think what is most worry about these statistics is the gender imbalance in participation rates in computer science, physics and maths.  Economically, we are have a huge skills gap in computing and STEM sector skills. We need to motivate and inspire more girls and boys to participating in highly skilled technical programmes. Young people are expert consumers of tech, we need to help them to ‘connect the dots’ so that they begin to understand that maths, physics and computer science are the building blocks of the tech that they use everyday and that most companies today and increasingly in the future are dependent on tech based skills.

What can parents and educators do?

 

Join STEAM School! Steam School hosts a weekly live broadcast with innovators from the world of science, tech & digital media for #TALKTECHTHURSDAYS.  By showcasing the stories of young innovators, and discussing tech trends and scientific breakthroughs, Steam School inspires students to raise their aspirations and to develop a new awareness about how rapid technological change is transforming the world in which we live.  At the end of each broadcast, students are invited to complete a weekly mini challenge using their innate creativity and problem-solving skills in a real-world context.

 

I am so excited for this year’s programme we are exploring cyber security, sustainable engineering, young entrepreneurship, robotics, flying drone bikes and the oceans plastics issue. We have scoured the globe to find the most inspiring projects and people for our weekly broadcasts and mini challenges. We source guests that school would find impossible to book and sometimes it can be as long as sixth month process to book our guests. But we do this because we believe that in sharing the stories of STEAM innovators from across the globe we can inspire young people to develop STEAM skills and prepare for a very digital future.

 

The ‘A’ in STEAM is so important because creative thinking skills matched with the technical skills developed in physics and maths prepare young people for careers in digital and STEM based sectors. We need young people to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills so that they work in environments that are fast paced, collaborative and project based in natures. At Steam School, we have interpreted the ‘E’ in STEAM as entrepreneurship rather than ‘engineering’ Embracing entrepreneurial skills is also key to approaching problems with a growth mindset, ready to find solutions, overcome challenges and to develop resiliency, flexibility and collaborative skills.

What can we do to close the gaps?

 

  1. Model technology in the classroom

I would like to see the government invest in an edtech programme across all schools in the UK. We need to model and embed the use of AI, machine learning and mixed reality in the classroom.

 

  1. Review A level model

How ‘relevant’ and therefore ‘attractive is the content of these subjects to girls and boys? How are we helping to ‘connect the dots’ for them in our sixth form programmes. in my view a more practical project based learning curriculum combined with the development of highly technical skills in an industry context would see an increased uptake of these subjects.

 

  1. More role models

There is an abundance of female and male role model in the world of STEM and STEAM but presenting them to young people in STEM ‘days’ or ‘weeks’  once or twice in an academic year is not enough. They need consistent and persistent exposure to aspirational role models.  Why, because we are competing with social media role models whom young people are engaging with for endless hours everyday.

(Nic adds: Check out GECFutures for some role models in edtech to see what they are doing to close both digital and gender gaps in UK schools, homes and businesses.

 

  1. Parents

Don’t expect schools to do all the heavy lifting, teachers are amazing and inspirational professionals, but they have a lot to do in a working day. We have collective responsibility as parents, educators and businesses to prepare young people for 21st century skills. Book them into coding camps, check out programmes in your local museum, arts organisations and many big corporates like UK Fast are hosting programmes for parents and young people.

 

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Ultimately, Jade’s advice of “Be proactive and get involved” is key. One way is signing up for The Gender Equality Charter and addressing the gender gaps in your community – especially when it comes to the digital opportunities of your learners.

by Nicole Ponsford