Women and Girls in STEAM Education

Sara Narimene Boukais discovered last summer that she can change the world.

As a member of Algeria’s first-ever robotics team, the 18-year-old spent months designing a machine that can clean polluted water—or, at least, clear a replica of a river littered with colored plastic balls.

Sara had never studied robotics, nor did she have experience in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) education. But alongside her peers in Algiers, she built a working, remote-controlled robot that they successfully launched at the FIRST Global Challenge, an international high school robotics competition held in July in Washington, DC.

“I saw how powerful robotics are,” Sara says of the competition. “We can do a lot with robotics. We can help people. We can solve the world’s problems.”

We have made great strides in encouraging women and girls like Sara to enter STEAM fields, but we can do better. Women hold less than 30 percent of jobs in STEAM, which encompasses the fastest-growing and highest-paying professional fields, particularly in low-and-middle income economies. There are leaks in the pipeline: globally, women are entering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at the same levels as men, but the UNESCO Institute of Statistics finds that women are far less likely to pursue doctoral degrees. UNESCO suggests this attrition is caused by the stereotypes and biases that girls encounter in their careers. As long as women are not able to take full advantage of this growing sector, talent and economic potential are being left on the table.

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