Getting women into STEM careers has got to start somewhere and educators, as well as industry players, increasingly advocate starting them at a young age – even as early as when they enter kindergarten.
The industry’s desire to hit the problem hard and early is based on the lackluster percentage of women who currently work in computing. Women hold only 25 percent of computing jobs and the percentage interested in pursuing a STEM career dropped to 18 percent in 2010 from 79 percent in the previous decade. Lack of exposure to a STEM curricula in school, societal bias and unfavorable college experiences are among the many factors to blame.
Priming the Pump
Children are curious, especially at a young age. The opportunity to learn valuable computer skills early could potentially open the door to a future career in STEM.
Toys, games and books can influence children’s decisions to explore STEM careers. Fifty one percent of males say they always enjoyed games, toys and books about their chosen area of study compared with only 35 percent of female students. Independent toy makers have taken notice. The makers of GoldieBlox and the Roominate Dollhouse Kit, for example, are doing their part to help inspire young girls through play.
In a recent column, technology writer Mike Elgan said computer software development should be a core part of public education. “By the time kids graduate from high school,” he write, “they should be able to build a PC, troubleshoot networking issues, and at the very least be able to build and manage a moderately complex website.”
Elgan said that public schools could do a better job integrating STEM courses into the curriculum, though it could be tough for them to keep pace with technology.
An effort, however, needs to start somewhere. Inspiring and engaging activities at school tend to be influential on future college course selection. The American school system generally does not offer deep integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into the curriculum.
College and STEM
Microsoft commissioned a study to learn how to better inspire and encourage post-secondary students to learn STEM subjects, based on comments from STEM college students and parents of K-12 students. Its findings gave insight into the path students take to post-secondary STEM studies, and the results are not surprising.
College students were asked when they decided to pursue STEM courses in college. According to the report, 78 percent of them said they decided in high school or earlier. And 21 percent decided in middle school or earlier.
Meanwhile, less than 49 percent of parents of children in K-12 programs believe schools offer enough STEM related instruction and 93 percent of parents believe STEM studies should be top priority for schools.
And, finally, 68 percent of female college students said a teacher or class got them interested in STEM, compared with 57 percent of male students.