To celebrate International Day of Girls & Women in Science 2023, St. Margaret’s School for Girls was pleased to partner with TechFest and the Apache Corporation, to run a special event for primary schools across the region, at which pupils heard from leading women in physics and took part in interactive workshops. Based in Aberdeen, St. Margaret’s is keen to encourage girls to embrace all that education and careers in STEM have to offer.
We spoke to Anna Tomlinson, the school’s Head Teacher, and Lucinda Arthur, Head of Computing Science, about the importance of supporting and inspiring girls to enter the world of STEM.
Fewer numbers of girls are choosing to study computer science at GCSE level. Why do you think this gender STEM gap persists today?
Lucinda Arthur (LA): “This could be down to a number of reasons: a lack of female computer science teachers and also qualified ones. Although this is currently being addressed through the STACS project, there is still some catching up to do”.
Anna Tomlinson (AT): According to government-funded growth network Tech Nation, while 9% of the UK workforce are employed in the UK tech industry, just 26% of those in the tech workforce are women, so a low number of girls studying the subject in schools is a reflection of the fact that women are under-represented in this area nationally.
How does St. Margaret’s School nurture STEM skills in its pupils?
LA: To complement our core STEM curriculum we actively encourage pupils to take part in external STEM activities, such as competitions and clubs, to gain more knowledge beyond the school curriculum and experience hands-on learning. Programmes in which pupils participate include the EDT Industrial Cadets project, where pupils engage in real-life STEM challenges and receive support from a mentor in a supporting tech company for 12 weeks, and the Cyber First competition, which introduces girls to the field of cybersecurity, starting in S2."
“Moreover, we build our option columns afresh every year in order to ensure that the maximum number of students are able to undertake their preferred combination of subjects."
AT: “Role models play an important part in encouraging girls to develop interest and skills in this area. In our school older girls are powerful role models for their younger peers. STEM assemblies and clubs led by senior school pupils give junior girls the opportunity to learn more about what lies ahead for them. At St. Margaret’s, we regularly invite women in STEM careers into school to tell their own stories and to nurture the interests of students who are interested in STEM.”
Why is it important that schools encourage girls to develop STEM skills?
LA: “With the advancement of AI, machine learning, and robotics, it’s vital that girls are educated to be able to take on relevant jobs in the future. In this age of technological advancement, girls need equal representation.”
AT: “Women are under-represented in the tech industry and other STEM fields, and we must do all we can to address that for the benefit of society as a whole.
What can independent schools do to bridge the gender STEM gap?
AT: “Schools can promote STEM subjects to children from a young age. On 10th February, St. Margaret’s partnered with TechFest and Apache Corporation to run an event that celebrated Women in Physics as part of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
“Pupils from across the region attended and benefited from hearing from inspirational women in the field, such as our former pupil, Professor Sinead Farrington, and from taking part in hands-on activities – it was a fantastic experience for everyone involved”.
What piece of advice would you give to encourage more girls into STEM?
LA: “Introduce pupils to the wide range of career opportunities that STEM subjects can provide at an earlier stage of learning: in the primary years and early years of senior school”.
What are your hopes for the future of the tech industry?
LA: “I hope for continued innovation and a greater emphasis on the ethical considerations of using tech. It would also be great to see the tech industry become even more involved with their local schools to provide learning opportunities. For instance, in Glasgow, many tech firms offer pupils the chance to participate in competitions and receive mentorship”.
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women only make up 28% of the STEM workforce and remain vastly underrepresented in post-secondary STEM courses. Schools like St. Margaret’s set a fantastic example of the role schools can play in bridging this gender gap and giving girls the confidence and resources to thrive in STEM subjects.