Falling for STEM: Why it is important to nurture a passion for STEM in girls at an early age
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is an important aspect of helping girls be better equipped with critical life skills for a brighter future. STEM fields have been traditionally male dominated and stereotypes regarding gender roles still persist, which have contributed to discouraging girls from pursuing careers in these fields. Many girls in Nigeria and Africa have an interest in STEM, especially at a young age, and this interest needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and supported with the right tools to reach their full potential.
Research has shown that science achievement gaps emerge as early as kindergarten. If young girls aren’t exposed to informal learning opportunities in STEM early, there will be a huge gap in their knowledge of sciences. Cultivating this interest at an early age and providing more female role models in STEM fields will help girls realize that there is no difference in STEM ability due to gender and can help close the gender gap in these fields. This is especially important in Africa where we already have challenges in girl-child education in addition to STEM education.
In Nigeria, and Africa, increasing girls’ participation in STEM can help reduce or end the cycle of poverty. STEM fields are highly skilled and highly paid and are high-growth sectors of the economy. By encouraging girls’ interest early, they have the opportunity to decide for themselves which career path they wish to follow, which will help them to be independent in the future.
How can we nurture girls’ passion for STEM at a young age? It starts with finding out their interests. We can pay attention to what interests our girls in their early years, find out if they are interested in any science, mathematics, technology, or engineering-related topics, and encourage their desire to learn.
We can introduce to them to female role models in STEM – we can find female engineers, doctors, computer programmers, and scientists in our own communities for them to look up to. Beyond that, girls can be provided with books and animated movies about female STEM role models to get them interested.
In order to make the learning process fun and interesting, we can introduce to science-related activities that are also entertaining, like excursions to the museum, zoo, park, or aquariums, where girls should be allowed to interact and ask questions. Girls can also be provided with open ended toys, such as wooden blocks and Legos; simple construction materials, like cardboard, colored paper, rope, tape, etc.; and science kits. They should also have lots of free time to play and explore.
Home activities, too, can be fun and STEM related, from little things like cooking (Food Science) and fixing things around the house (Engineering) to shopping for groceries (Mathematics) and administering first aid (Medicine). Parents, guardians, teachers, and mentors all have a role to play in encouraging and shaping girls for the future in STEM.
Girls need to be provided with equal opportunities to develop an aptitude in STEM. It's never too early to begin to lay the foundation they need to pursue and exceed in STEM careers. The key to encouraging girls to develop an interest in STEM is to catch them early.