STEM education program Girls4Tech reached its initial milestone goal of educating one million girls. Ahead of UNICEF’s International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, facilitator Mastercard has set a new goal for the Girls4Tech program to reach five million girls globally by 2025.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis struck, disproportionately hindering women and girls in a number of ways, there was a pressing need to scale up investments in girls’ education to address persistent gender gaps in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
While these fields are increasingly important for the development of advanced economies, women still hold less than one-third of research positions globally. In East Asia and the Pacific, the percentage of researchers that are female falls to only 23.9 per cent. It’s even lower in South and West Asia at 18.5 per cent. The low rate of women’s representation in the research community reflects the reality of gender inequality within education as well as the barriers that girls and women face when pursuing STEM-related studies and careers.
To help tackle this problem, in 2014, Mastercard launched its Girls4Tech program to offer activities and curriculum built on global science and math standards, incorporating the payments technology company’s deep expertise in technology and innovation. The program’s aim is to enable kids to discover a range of STEM careers, such as fraud detective, data scientist and software engineer. Starting as hands-on, in-person sessions run by more than 4600 Mastercard employee volunteers over six years, the program has since expanded into new topics such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, and enhanced access to its STEM curriculum through a digital learning experience, Girls4Tech Connect, which has been translated into eight languages.
“When there’s equal gender representation in the workforce, companies automatically build better products, services and create better technology. The big stumbling block to achieving this balance? There’s a growing gender gap in STEM careers,” says Julienne Loh, Executive Vice President, Enterprise Partnerships, Asia Pacific, Mastercard.
“Bringing diverse partners together to deliver the Girls4Tech program is one way that Mastercard is tackling this problem head on, all over the world, to inspire more girls to pursue STEM careers and reduce the gender gap in these fields. Mastercard believes girls need to have exposure to the variety of STEM careers that are out there and see role models in these rewarding jobs. The more they can see it, the more likely they can be it.”
Mastercard employee volunteers from the Brisbane office have taken the Girls4Tech program on the road to 11 schools between 2017-2020, reaching 1,028 girls.
“Mastercard’s goal is to build foundational STEM knowledge and develop critical 21st century skills girls need for their studies and career success. This program sparks their curiosity in STEM and teaches them real-world applications of those skills,” Susan Warner, Vice President of Community Engagement and Founder of Mastercard’s Girls4Tech program says.
By the end of March 2020, UNESCO estimated that more than 89 per cent of the world’s student population was out of school or university due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures, including nearly 743 million girls. To support parents, caregivers, teachers and children that had to suddenly adjust to learning from home, Mastercard extended free access to its Girls4Tech curriculum, through a suite of online, creative educational resources, designed to engage and inspire kids ages 8-12.
Through the website Girls4Tech Connect, teachers and parents can download lessons to help students learn about STEM topics including encryption, fraud detection, data analysis and digital convergence, from the comfort of their homes or anywhere around the world. Lessons are currently available in English, Chinese, Hindi, Malay, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Polish.