While the world’s technological advancement is in a race to go beyond an imagined future, globalisation is helping its citizens to reap benefits of its achievement. The positive impacts are seen in all sectors including academic, economic, and professional and other fronts.
This advancement is mostly possible due to the successful implementation of STEM which stands for ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics’. In stirring any country’s growth, and ensuring sustainability and stability, STEM plays a vital role.
STEM occupations are growing at 17 per cent a year, while other occupations are growing at a rate of 9.8 per cent, according to the US Department of Commerce. This stat is enough to portray the importance of STEM in education, career and occupation. Only a STEM revolution can bring a desired development outcome for a country involving every citizen with the process.
Emphasising the above proposition, the United Nations observes International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February every year. ‘Invest in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth’ is the call of the day from the UN to all nations.
Science and gender equality are both vital for attaining internationally agreed development goals, especially the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Over the past 15 years, the global community has made a lot of efforts in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science.
In Bangladesh, though we are progressing in many fields, the STEM education is not at any satisfactory level. If we take into account male and female participation in the existing STEM in Bangladesh, the proof is obvious.
There is no girls’ participation in the International Collegiate Programming Contest (final round) since the contest began in Bangladesh in 1998. No girls were also there in Bangladesh team in Math Olympiad since 2011, Physics Olympiad since 2011 and Informatics Olympiad-since 2012.
These stats were analysed thoroughly while we were planning to bring more Bangladeshi girls in STEM education back in 2015. Bangladesh Open Source Network (BdOSN) dig into the cases and came up with four major barriers – socio-economic, lack of visible women leaders, lack of proper guidelines and support and fear of uncertain career – that stop the girls from taking STEM as their career.
To make clear headway from these obscurities, BdOSN had in mid-2015 initiated #missingdaughter, which was aimed at bringing girls and women to STEM in general and programming in particular.
Starting in mid-2015 and designed only for girls and women with an aim to bring more girls and women in ICT and STEM, BdOSN has been organising awareness raising campaigns, onlining contests, training and workshops and organised National Girls Programming Contest (NGPC).
Apart from these, #missingdaughter has been arranging some quite insightful programmes around the country.
#missingdaughter has designed a package full of effective programming camps to pull girls from schools, colleges and universities to participate in computer programming. For example, school programming quiz for girls, online programming test, Ada Lovelace (the first ever programmer of the world) Programming Camp (for high school and college girls), Grace Hopper Girls Programming Training Camp (for University female students) and Margarita Hamilton Girls Programming Camp (residential programming camp) are all designed to inspire the girls to take ICT as a career in general and programming in particular.
While supporting the girls to develop their programming skills, we have been organising national-level programming contest only for girls, titled ‘National Girls Programming Contest’.
Such national-level competition is motivating the girls not only to take part in programming competition but also to hone their relevant skills and techniques to prepare themselves for international competition.
We are keeping pace with the world’s ongoing activities and arranging several international celebrations in Bangladesh; we are empowering our girls with proper knowledge, skills and training. For instance, we celebrate gorgeously the International Girls In ICT, Take Back The Tech and many more international events in the country.
However, women make up a pitifully small percentage of computer science graduates and the tech workforce. This means that for any given woman in any given tech office, there's a good chance that she's going to be one of very few -- if not the only -- woman.
Two of the four factors responsible for lesser participation of women in the ICT, -- fear of uncertain future and lack of visible women leaders – were prominent. To make it up, we have been actively working with intensive care. For example, our regular career and grooming sessions all over Bangladesh are helping girls to find their inspiration in the ICT field.
These sessions are boosting their confidence and encourage them to step into the field. #missingdaughter arranges ‘Girls in ICT Summit’, ‘Girls Innovation Boot Camp’ and visiting IT related offices.
The pilot phase of #missingdaughter programme continued two years and ended in September 2007. Over this period of journey, we reached more than 16,000 girls in 35 districts from all over the country.
The most remarkable result we achieved through this two years of #missingdaughter activities was manifested in the National Girls Programming Contest (NGPC) in 2017. We got 384 registered teams from all over Bangladesh whereas it was only 67 in 2015.
The increase of all girls team participated in the regional round of world programming contest, ACM-ICPC in Dhaka, was a remarkable phenomenon. In the year 2015, when we started this programme there were only five all girls teams. It rose to 129 in 2016 and 149 in 2017!!!
However, to sum up our learning of experiencing with the girls’ participation, we can mention some points and if they are properly taken care of, more positive results are possible in future.
• We must acknowledge that over the decade’s practices’ of keeping the girls out of the ICT sectors, their mindsets have been prepared in that way. So, they need an additional support to come out of such state of mind. If we can put attention in a focussed manner and design module for the girls particularly, it is most likely that the participants can be reached easily and more successfully.
• Ensuring a local mentorship with local resources is another potential way to increase the girls’ participation in the ICT sector. Because of the socio-economic background, the girls in general in Bangladesh become reluctant to move from place to place to attend the programmes. Their families also feel insecure to send their daughters to the events. Here, having local resources with local mentors help significant number of girls to take the best of the organised events.
• There is no alternative way to increase female participation in the STEM and ICT except building awareness among them, their families and surroundings. More holistic events can be arranged to change this situation.
No development is possible without equal participation of girls and women alongside boys and men. STEM requires the involvement of every person directly or indirectly related and this demands a special care. Regarding steps to inspire girls and women, more opportunities need to be launched and opened up.
Only a collaborative attempt can make it more successful and insightful. BdOSN has been working hard to make a better STEM and IT field for the girls and women in Bangladesh and it has some more exciting action plans to be implemented in the coming days.
* Munir Hasan is general secretary of Bangladesh Mathematical Olympiad Committee and Coordinator, Youth Programme, at Prothom Alo.