Despite the vast career opportunities, women and girls continue to be underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) that are significant to the economic, and social development. UNESCO estimates suggest that less than a third of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields are female and this effectively excludes their contribution of intellectual capacity. One main obstacle identified is the negative stereotypes towards STEM subjects and careers which is perceived as more suitable for boys which in a way, has psychologically steered women and girls away from the discipline. Closing the gender gap is crucial to the quest of achieving widespread innovation, there is, therefore, a need for National Research and Education Network (NREN) stakeholders to create tailored paths specific to improving access to technology education for women. NRENs and their members are suitably positioned to bring in fresh perspectives to overcome this bias by ensuring inclusive and equitable opportunities that raise female participation and help them realize their full potential as innovators.
In order to inspire and engage women and girls to embrace areas related to STEM, learning can be through developing methods of interaction with resources that comprise elements of engineering and computer science on an e-learning platform. Combining this with virtual laboratories and application of the knowledge gained by doing hands-on activities with low-cost embedded devices and NREN infrastructures reinforces the learning and opens doors for creativity. This creates an effective learning approach that enhances students' ability to think critically, producing individuals that are capable of solving problems and transforming ideas into reality and thereby empowering women in providing innovative technological solutions.
Professor Harvey Smith, Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador said that “with the right mentoring, networks and support, women can “punch through the glass ceiling” and do “incredible work.” This presentation will describe my experience in Nigeria of the successful adoption of a practical learning model for women, in the form of a maker space or Hacklab that provides collaborative work areas to design, research, prototype and invent.
Keywords: women, technology, inclusion, e-learning, hands-on, NREN, STEM, gender balance, maker space