Getting girls involved in hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning in Morocco could pave the road to a sustainable future
When young girls at a summer camp in Rwanda took part in a pilot program that expands Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education through hands-on learning, the results were impressive. Students from 10 different countries came together to learn STEM skills from private sector experts while gaining invaluable leadership skills.
Not only did students learn essential skills, like coding, but the program also fundamentally shifted how they viewed science and technology. At the end of the program, the girls presented what they learned and how their newfound skills could contribute towards attaining the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Around the world, countries have harnessed STEM education to achieve significant economic growth, but the potential long-term impacts of these teaching methods have yet to truly be investigated. To that end, Morocco could offer an interesting case study.
Morocco is seen as the business gateway to the African economy, but it lacks the highly trained scientific workforce needed to truly take advantage of its natural resources and obtain sustainable growth. The country struggles with a high unemployment rate, with youth unemployment currently at 28 percent. This figure is higher among those who hold degrees. Meanwhile, the country ranked toward the bottom of the world in terms of patents produced and gender equality.
A study from the OCP Policy Center suggests that the high unemployment rate is due to a skills mismatch between the current outcome of the education system and the type of demand for skills in the current labor market. One of the main drivers of skilled unemployment in Morocco seems to be an oversupply of non-STEM graduate students in the labor market. These results point to a need for better STEM-related skills training for youth and an educational system that is giving students the resources they need to succeed.
To address this gap and directly invest in girls, the Caterpillar Foundation partnered with Girl Up, a UN Foundation initiative, to support a STEM for Social Good WiSci bootcamp in Morocco.
WiSci Camps bring together 100 teen girls from three or more countries to live and learn together for two weeks. Campers learn to value taking risks alongside their peers in a unique cross-cultural environment. This immersive experience aims to bridge the gap through access to education, mentorship opportunities, and transformational leadership training. The Morocco WiSci Camp is one of many camps the Caterpillar Foundation is supporting with Girl Up around the world, including Panama, Indonesia, and the United States.
We know that Morocco is not unique on the African continent. According to the African Development Bank, fewer than 25 percent of all university graduates were in STEM fields — despite a growing need for scientific innovation to address growing challenges in the country.
Still, the desire for STEM education is on the rise across Africa. Agenda 2063, a 50-year plan by the African Union to support economic growth and reduce inequalities, includes the goal of increasing the number of STEM teachers across the continent by 33 percent by 2023. In addition to government action, many organizations worldwide are committed to closing the gender gap in STEM education.
These kinds of initiatives represent a pathway to a better future, and researchers have showed that the impact of implementing scientific thinking at an early age is already leading to breakthrough discoveries, such as in the field of malaria research, for example.
When we invest in science-based education, especially for young girls and in communities where STEM education is often underfunded, the benefits are enormous not just for those individuals, but for their families, their communities and their countries.
The possibility of economic and environmental stability might lie as much in the hands of rural eighth grade girls, as in those of government planners.