Antiquated representations of STEM fields (often men in lab coats doing boring, repetitious work) are persistent in today’s media and culture. The result has been a preconceived notion among young learners that being an engineer, mathematician, computer scientist, or even a doctor is not something they can or should achieve.
The shortage of positive, STEM-related educational experiences tailored to girls at a young age has produced a generation of female students who are choosing not to pursue those fields at all. Even those who choose to enter a STEM discipline will rarely be prepared for the challenges they encounter.
Couple this perception problem with the accelerating pace of technological integration into economies and an obvious problem comes into focus. It’s widely accepted that for our economy to remain competitive we must solve for the expected shortage of qualified workers in STEM fields (3 million of them by 2020), yet few students are equipped with the experience and, most importantly, the confidence to complete a college major within a STEM field successfully. Chief among those being historically underserved by the current state of STEM education in the US are girls.
A strong early educational foundation is what academic success, and eventual professional success, is built upon. This is in large part due to the fact that a child’s confidence is made or broken by the time she reaches middle school, especially for technical skillsets related to computer science and math. Life-long opinions on their ability to excel in technical fields are fundamentally linked to experiences and perceptions formed during elementary school.
One of the most exciting new ideas for sparking confidence in young learners, boy and girl alike, is hands-on experience with 21st century tools. The sooner society learns to embrace teaching students not just how to use technology as a tool for learning math and reading, but also how to create technology itself, the sooner we will be providing them with a path for accelerated success.
Companies like Zaniac, a K-8 enrichment program with campuses nationwide, are leading the charge for a modernized education. A forward-thinking approach allows students to grasp math and logic concepts, which are fundamental to computer programming, in a way that feels like play. Game-based learning utilizing Minecraft™ has completely rewritten the established paradigm of learning as work, and a modern pedagogy capitalizes on the love kids have for the game to teach concepts ranging from biology to physics. Modular robotics systems designed for education bridge the gap between theory and practice in engineering. The introduction of technology as a tool that students can both use and create at a young age further prepares them to comprehend the shifting dynamics of careers in their future.
These young female engineers, empowered, knowledgeable, and excited about technology and math, are not a hypothetical. They exist today at places like Zaniac. With the tide of the STEM conversation showing no signs of subsiding, these girls will no doubt lead the way for countless more of their peers.