Thursday, June 13, 2024

Closing gender gaps in STEM education could have a positive impact on employment

The contribution of women in STEM in Botswana compared with the participation of men remains huge and there is an urgent need to engender STEM policy in the country in order to foster a conducive environment which promotes the educational achievement of all people irrespective of their gender.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (IEGE) reducing the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education areas could help reduce skills gap, increase employment and productivity of women and reduce occupational segregation. ‘Ultimately this would foster economic growth via both higher productivity and increased labour market activity,” says IEGE.

However, despite numerous studies showing that reducing the gender gap could result in good employment opportunities and highly productive jobs, there is currently a low proportion of women studying and graduating in STEM subjects. 

The unemployment rate in Botswana from 1999 to 2020 has been steadily increasing. In 2020, 17.7 percent of the total labour force in Botswana was unemployed. The government is still developing a National Employment Policy (NEP) to address unemployment. The goal of the NEP is to assist the country to achieve productive, gainful and decent employment for all, to contribute to the reduction of income inequality and as well as to support Government’s poverty eradication efforts.

IEGC says closing gender gaps in STEM education would have a positive impact on employment as the jobs that would be created are forecasted mostly in the long term.

It is alleged that there still exist discriminatory practices against women in STEM in Botswana which restricts the country’s ability of growing and reducing poverty.

Speaking to The Telegraph, a scholar James Kaodi said Batswana women are stereotyped as socially unacceptable, which always results in them being boxed in these socially defined roles and responsibilities.

“The culture in Botswana gives special treatment to males over females and this then informs social roles and responsibilities of females,” he says adding that the equal contribution of men and women in STEM will allow them to achieve full intellectual potential.

Among other things, Kaodi says there is need to rectify policies since fewer women are getting opportunities for graduate studies in STEM. “Policymakers need to realise that STEM plays a key part in increasing productivity and competency levels for Botswana’s socioeconomic development,” he says.

Although there is optimism that the trend can be reversed with the right policies in place, there is also need for government to avail data in order to create, monitor and appraise long term policies for solving gender inequality in STEM.

IEGE also notes that if the gender gap in STEM is closed “the new jobs are likely to be highly productive because women graduating from STEM often progress into high value-added positions in sectors such as information and communication or financial and business services.”

Furthermore, higher productivity of STEM jobs is likely to result in higher wages. Remarkably, IEGE states that the study shows a closure of the gender wage gap by 2050. This could come in handy because the gender wage gap exists in Botswana labour market as women earn less than men despite the increase in the labour market. Findings of a study conducted by Botswana Institute for Policy Analysis (BIDPA) shows that gender wage gap between men and women is 17 percent.

Currently in Botswana female students represent only 30 per cent of students enrolled in STEM-related fields. Female students’ enrolment is predominantly low in Information communication technology (four percent) and engineering and manufacturing (eleven percent). Currently Malaysia is regarded as a model country that has achieved gender parity in STEM with 58 per cent of its science degrees held by women. Furthermore, the country has partnered with UNESCO with the intention to share its know-how and prop up gender-responsive STEM education.

Another recommendation proffered is for Botswana to integrate gender analysis in school curriculums and adopt an inclusive approach in a bid to avoid marginalising certain sectors of the country’s population. By encouraging a balanced representation of men and women through structural change which inspires science and distinction, STEM would likely bring positive results to Botswana.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the lack of data and indicators, as well as of available analytical studies, can obstruct the design, monitoring, and evaluation of policies aimed at successfully tackling the issue of gender inequality in STEM. 

“Effective STEM policies need to be evidence-based and hence supported by relevant statistics and indicators. There is an urgent need to develop new indicators and methods to collect and analyse sex-disaggregated data on women’s participation in STEM around the world, in order to elaborate and implement appropriate solutions,” says UNESCO.

Kaodi says Botswana faces a couple of challenges which must be addressed if it is to empower the next generation of STEM leaders.  “This will involve adopting concrete policy measures on STEM education, motivating girls to choose STEM, and also implementing measures which ensure the advancement of women,” he says.

He says the current levels of inequalities in STEM are due to various factors which include social, cultural and gender norms that influence how girls and boys are brought up and how they interact with the community.

“Social norms and expectations sometimes determine the quality of education that girls and boys receive as well as the subjects that they study. This might actually be the reason why girls lose interest in STEM subjects especially in the adolescence stage,” he said.

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