Social, emotional and technological skills are considered critical in education for sustainable development to meet the demands of the 21st century as they can contribute to positive outcomes in life and reduce social and educational disparities. However, traditional social norms and expectations around gender limit girls’ participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), where women make up only 28% of the workforce globally.
In Ethiopia, the engineering and technology workforce is composed of less than 10% of women, despite the Ethiopian Education Development Roadmap (2018-30), which emphasises the teaching of STEM subjects in both primary and secondary schools.
In the Wolaita Zone, south of Ethiopia, where Link works, we asked learners what they think are the barriers for girls to take up STEM subjects. The responses show that girls’ confidence and choices are affected by common beliefs and myths. Girls thought that STEM subjects are not for them, because they are too difficult for girls. This is compounded by a lack of female role-models in the STEM world and biases of employers against recruiting women.
Link Ethiopia developed a STEM Induction Project, which has been piloted to date in eight secondary schools benefiting a total of 2475 girls and 1726 boys. The project provides tailor-made STEM-induction materials cascaded to teachers through a Training of Trainers approach that look at STEM from a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) perspective. STEM concepts and activities are intended to build girls’ confidence through group work and classroom presentation. Additionally, STEM is presented in an innovative, creative and relevant fashion, showing students how STEM skills and knowledge can help solve many problems faced by the communities they live in. Lastly, the materials include Ethiopian women STEM role models, allowing girls to identify with and relate to them.
Compared to baseline, midline data highlighted a significant improvement on girls ‘self-esteem, wellbeing, gender perception and numerical competency scores. One of the school directors mentioned how the STEM Induction Project has positively affected girls’ attitude towards STEM saying “previously female students were less likely than male students to be interested in mathematics. However, female students now outperformed male students in math ratings”.
Although it is too early to talk about the impact of the project, this data is surely encouraging and shows clearly that using a social and emotional learning approach, which incorporates confidence-building, fun STEM-focused activities relevant to the learners’ surroundings, is valuable. Moreover, the inclusion of Ethiopian women role models with STEM careers and girls who have engaged and succeeded in STEM studies was helpful in challenging the limiting stereotypes.