Girls’ and women’s education in STEM

Girls’ and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

More girls are in school today than ever before, but they do not always have the same opportunities as boys to complete and benefit from an education of their choice. Too many girls and women are held back by biases, social norms and expectations influencing the quality of the education they receive and the subjects they study. They are particularly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and consequently, in STEM careers.

This gender disparity is alarming, especially as STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development. UNESCO is giving special attention to this issue through research, policy and capacity-building work and as part of its efforts to promote the empowerment of girls and women through education

Areas of work

UNESCO produced a cutting-edge global report entitled Cracking the Code: Girls’ and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), mapping the status of girls and women in STEM education and identifying the factors hindering and promoting their participation, achievement and continuation in STEM fields. This report is the first to document the drivers of gender disparity in STEM studies globally. Through this comprehensive research exercise, UNESCO has built a strong knowledge base on the gender gap in STEM education, and provided evidence-based policy recommendations to education ministries and relevant stakeholders.

UNESCO has also generated strategic information at country level through support to comparative assessments of learning in mathematics and science in Latin AmericaEast and Southern Africa, and related research in Asia.

UNESCO promotes and facilitates policy dialogue and experience-sharing among countries. A first on this topic, UNESCO’s International Symposium and Policy Forum, organized in Bangkok, Thailand in 2017, brought together more than 350 participants from over 70 countries across the globe to discuss and share experiences. You can join UNESCO in its advocacy efforts to shift policy and practice by sharing your thoughts using #GirlsCrackTheCode on social media.

UNESCO supports national capacities to deliver gender-responsive STEM education. With financial support from partners, including the Government of Japan and other donors, UNESCO is building capacity-building of teachers in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Regional trainings in francophone and anglophone countries in Africa have so far reached over 350 teachers, teacher trainers, school administrators and government partners from 21 countries, and established a corps of Master Trainers to support local capacity-development efforts. A training package and an accompanying advocacy toolkit were developed to facilitate quality gender-responsive STEM education, and close gender gaps in STEM studies and careers. This work was carried out in cooperation with national and regional partners including the Ministry of Education of Senegal and Rwanda, the Institut de la Francophonie pour l'éducation et la formation (IFEF), the African Union’s International Centre for Girls’ and Women’s Education in Africa (AU/CIEFFA), Microsoft, and the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE).

Ensuring all learners have the digital skills to succeed in today’s technology-driven world is of global importance. There is growing consensus around the need to enhance girls’ digital literacy for long-term and short-term learning. As the world pivots towards technology-based learning in particular following the COVID-19 pandemic, girls must be equipped with skills that enable them to navigate a changing world.

UNESCO works to empower girls and women in acquiring basic competences and digital skills to help close the gender digital divide. Through financial support from Intel, Prada and other partners, UNESCO is enhancing girls’ digital skills for learning.

Role models and mentors have been found to be particularly effective in tackling gender bias. They offer girls an authentic understanding of STEM studies and careers and show them that they too can become who they dream of being.

UNESCO has expanded related initiatives at country level through innovative partnerships with Airbus, HNA, Intel, L’Oréal, Prada, WomEng and other partners. In Kenya, annual Scientific Camps of Excellence for Mentoring Girls in STEM have been identified by the UN as a good practice. In Ghana, UNESCO organized STEM Clinics to familiarize girls with STEM, build their skills in these fields and facilitate contact between girls and female STEM professionals who can act as positive role models.