» Bangkok: A global call to advance STEM Education for Girls
28.08.2017 - ODG

Bangkok: A global call to advance STEM Education for Girls

Director-General Irina Bokova launched the first ever global report on Girls’ Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, “Cracking the Code”, at the UNESCO International Symposium and Policy Forum that opened in Bangkok on 28 August 2017.

The event, co-organized by UNESCO in collaboration with the Institute for the Promotion of Science and Technology at the Ministry of Education of Thailand, brought together some 350 participants from over 70 countries, to understand the factors fueling gender disparities in STEM, share positive experiences in bridging the gap and chart the way forward. It was generously supported by the CJ Group.

Opening the event, the Director-General asserted that “the Sustainable Development Goals call upon every society to harness scientific talent to find solutions, to improve health, nutrition, resource management, environmental protection… We need the talent of girls and women to search, to discover. This is a matter of progress and social inclusion in all countries, and it is why this Conference is so important, to understand, to share experiences and to launch new avenues of action and cooperation.”

Noting that only 17 women have won a Nobel Prize in in physics,chemistry or medicine compared to 572 men, Ms Bokova said that “such deep inequalities are the result of a wide range of factors, starting with social, cultural and gender norms that influence how girls and boys are brought up, how they learn and interact with family, friends, teachers and the wider community, which shape their identity, behavior and choices. This disempowers girls and women throws a shadow over entire societies, placing a break on progress to sustainable development.”

To address the complex factors that are holding girls back from pursuing a STEM vocation, she emphasized the need for research, partnerships and policies to support them from their earliest years in school right through their careers.

In his opening remarks, the Vice Minister of Education of Thailand Dr Sophon Napathorn underlined his country’s commitment to integrate STEM subjects across the curriculum and to prepare all citizens to contribute to sustainable development through innovation and creativity. He noted that Thailand is the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to pilot the UNESCO “STEM and Gender Advancement” project to identify gaps, develop indicators and promote successful policies. He also informed about plans to launch a regional center for STEM education through the South East Asian Ministers of Education organization.

In a keynote, Aditi Prasad, Chief Operating Officer of Robotix Learning Solutions, based in India, shared her inspiring mission to educate young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn to code and become innovators. Starting in a girls’ orphanage, the Indian Girls Code to bridge the gender gap in STEM has extended to many children across South India. She also emphasized the importance of encouraging boys and girls to work, learn and create together on technology, so that they become genuine equals – this is where change begins.”

This was followed by a ministerial panel, facilitated by BBC anchor Zeinab Badawi, during which challenges, lessons and best practices from Ghana, Jamaica, Senegal, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates were shared. These have involved a range of interventions from curricula reform and project-based teaching and learning strategies to national contests in STEM subjects for girls, career counseling and mentoring through female role models.

«We see so much political will and good examples that show what can be done, » said the Director-General. «We have to mobilize all actors around this goal and create a global movement  to encourage girls’ and women to follow STEM studies and careers, because science needs women and women need science.»

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