How can we make STEM more fun, accessible and rewarding?
Ada Lovelace. Rosalind Franklin. Lise Meitner. Barbara McClintock. Dorothy Hodgkin. Gertrude Elion. From math to medicine, and chemistry to computer science, history is awash with brilliant women, without whom the world would not be the way it is today.
Yet, since Marie Curie in 1903, there have only been 22 other women Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry or medicine, compared to 601 men.1 Globally, fewer than 30% of researchers are women. And only around 30% of all female students in higher education choose STEM-related fields, with enrollment in information and communications technology (ICT) especially low at just 3%.2
If figures like that don’t make all of us weep, they should, because they speak to a lot more than issues of gender bias and equity of opportunity to build meaningful careers in a world increasingly enabled by technology.
Disproportionately affected by many of the global challenges we face, women and girls possess a unique set of experiences and perspectives that must be recognized and addressed if we’re to realize a more socially just, economically inclusive and environmentally sustainable future. STEM education is pivotal to the achievement of that future, being foundational to developing the critical reasoning and problem-solving skills needed to accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The gender gap in STEM3%
of higher education students enrolled in ICT are female.
Taken together, the underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM means we’re missing a broad pool of talent, and the diversity of thought and experience that can lead to breakthrough ideas.
Research suggests multiple causes for the gap. Gender stereotypes, peer pressure, the lack of female role models, and perceptions of intimidating terminology and subject matter can all add up to girls believing that STEM isn’t for them, despite performing equally well in these subjects.
But what if there were a way to break down some of these barriers, at a time when girls are making important decisions about their future study and career paths?
Better yet, what if digital technology itself were the means to do it — to generate excitement by providing easy access to engaging content; to empower girls to choose what, how and when they learn, and to explore the world-changing possibilities of STEM careers; and to recognize curiosity and achievements with rewards that are valuable and meaningful to them?
These are the fundamental design questions that have informed development of the EY STEM App.
Using gamified learning to change perceptions
Developed by EY Women in Technology in collaboration with immersive learning specialists, SkillsVR, the EY STEM App is a free-of-charge mobile platform for girls, aged 13-18. Activated with a diverse ecosystem of governments, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations, the app leverages content from world-renowned institutions, which is mapped to the SDGs and the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning.
What really makes the EY STEM App different, though, is the way it makes engaging with that content simple and rewarding. From digging deeper into technologies, such as AI and blockchain, to exploring how design thinking can help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges, girls can easily navigate 15 channels of content that interest them. Supported by the inspirational stories of pioneering women, this content not only nurtures confidence and competence in STEM, but also the development of capabilities, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity and systems thinking, and social skills and teamwork.
Hundreds of individual activities — each broken into bite-size steps, such as watching a video, answering thought-provoking questions or carrying out an experiment — support self-directed learning and build a real sense of accomplishment with the completion of each step.
Further strengthening that sense of achievement is an incentivized learning model, whereby completion of each step earns points that girls can then redeem for a variety of awards:
- “Fun” rewards are rewards for themselves, e.g., digital vouchers for exciting merchandise, including STEM-related products, such as a tablet or smart watch.
- “Important” rewards offer opportunities for further development, such as group mentoring sessions and work shadowing experiences.
- “Lasting” rewards allow girls to donate their points toward causes they care about — such as environmental sustainability, gender equity and LGBTQIA+ rights — with a matching financial contribution from EY.
More than 98% of girls say they have enjoyed using the EY STEM App and completing activities.
This gamification element is the key and it has proven extremely popular, with more than 98% of girls saying that they have enjoyed using the app and completing activities. What is more, judging from pilots, which reached more than 7,000 girls across three cities in India and the US, it really does make a difference.
Measurement across two dimensions, both before and after girls complete activities, has shown quantifiable impact:
- Impact on STEM: We measure the improvement in girls’ STEM competence, their interest in STEM, how committed they are to pursuing STEM after leaving school, and how they perceive the value of STEM to themselves and the world as whole. Having set an ambitious 20% improvement target across each of these four measures, these were exceeded by an average of 10% for the pilots. The two measures that directly relate to creating a future pipeline of female leaders in STEM — STEM interest and STEM commitment — saw the greatest improvements, at 15% above target.
- Impact on 21st century skills: Beyond impact on STEM, EY STEM App experiences are designed to develop the core 21st century skills that are critical to adapting and thriving in the rapidly changing future of work. Applying a similar approach as STEM impact, an ambitious incremental skills improvement of 15% was targeted based on benchmarking. Once again, all targets were exceeded for the pilots, with the greatest above-target results being seen in Systems Thinking (31%), Leadership (29%) and Communications (26%).
“These results clearly demonstrate a hugely positive impact on girls’ interest and confidence in STEM,” says Rajiv Memani, EY India Chairman and Regional Managing Partner. “As technology continues to shape the future, it’s imperative that we promote equity of opportunity for girls to pursue high-growth STEM careers. We’re proud of the success of the EY STEM App pilots across 45 private and government schools in the Delhi National Capital Region, and look forward to making STEM learning more accessible and rewarding for girls in India.”
It’s vital women and girls have the opportunity to realize their full potential as leaders and change-makers in a world increasingly enabled by technology.
Collaborating to create change at scale
The ecosystem that underpins the EY STEM App provides a perfect example of a key operating principle behind the EY Ripples program and its ambition to positively impact one billion lives by 2030 — collaborating for scale. Working together with other like-minded organizations, and with the support of educators, parents and caregivers, we can achieve together what no one organization could achieve alone.
The ripple effect of improving girls’ STEM confidence could be huge and is of massive importance, not only to gender equity specifically, but also to sustainable development more generally. As EY enters the first phase of a wider rollout of the EY STEM App — not only in India and the US, but also Australia, the Philippines, South Africa, the UK and Ireland, and countries across the MENA region — we invite expressions of interest from education authorities, schools, companies and nonprofits who are keen to join us in making STEM learning more fun, accessible and rewarding for girls around the world.
“Growing girls’ skills and interests in STEM is vital to closing the gender gap,” says Julie Teigland, EY EMEIA Area Managing Partner and EY Global Leader — Women. Fast Forward. “It’s vital women and girls have the opportunity to realize their full potential as leaders and change-makers in a world increasingly enabled by technology.”
- Richter, F., 2020. The Nobel Prize Gender Gap. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/chart/2805/nobel-prize-winners-by-gender
- United Nations, 2021. 2021 Theme: Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. [online] Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/women-and-girls-in-science-day
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