For as long as I can recall, math has always been a passion of mine. Even as a young girl, I remember noticing the mathematical patterns apparent every day. From swinging around the monkey bars to learning gymnastics routines, my mathematical way of thinking has shaped the way I view and understand the world.
As I grew older, I began to immerse myself in a number of activities where I could put my mathematical problem-solving skills to use such as in science and computing. Not only did I deepen my understanding of math but my fascination with the subject grew stronger! Amid all the complex computations and equations, I have learned that mathematics is key to approaching and tackling any problem I am faced with.
The beauty of math and science
However, one thing that truly disheartens me is that so many girls are not able to learn to appreciate the true beauty of math and science. It is a blessing, thanks to my encouraging parents, that I am able to pursue my passion for the subject.
I didn’t know it at the time, but they prevented me from being discouraged by society’s bias against women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by surrounding me with industrial machines and gadgets to tinker with at home, and supplementing me with science and information technology experiments, lessons on coding and a lot of physics!
Even in early childhood, the most impressionable years of a child’s life, girls are driven away from STEM subjects. Take toys, for example. Majority of STEM-related toys, which improve children’s mathematical ability, are marketed as toys for boys.
While boys are encouraged to play with these cognitively enriching games, girls are held back from developing skills that would later on be helpful in STEM subjects. Along with these stereotypes of STEM as a masculine subject, young girls being underestimated of their math ability and the lack of female STEM role models all play against young female children pursuing their STEM interests.
According to the American Association of University Women 2021 research, “The STEM Gap,” “Women make up only 28 percent of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. Engineering and computer science—two of the most lucrative ‘jobs of the future’—remain heavily male-dominated. Only 21 percent of engineering majors and 19 percent of computer science majors are women.”
No wonder fewer girls get into a STEM track and pursue STEM careers. Also, fewer girls compete in math and science contests. In my experience, only two out of 10 participants were female.
While I, a 16-year-old high-school student, can do little to remove these barriers, I can still impact mathematically inclined young girls’ mindsets on these subjects.
I founded an advocacy program called Girls for STEM (girlsforstem.ph) to guide and encourage talented middle-school girls to further develop their skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. As of now, we have 30 pupils, all in Grades 5 and 6, who mostly study in public schools and are financially challenged.
In the past four months, we have met virtually, doing a variety of enriching math and science activities—hosting formal lessons on fractions and the many ways to solve them, playing fun online math games and watching brief videos on the history of science.
Through our Girls for STEM website, the girls are able to communicate with me and continue their interactive and immersive learning outside our meetings. In the near future, we will hold simultaneous rocket launches nationwide and the girls themselves will be on top of the event.
Ecosystem of support and motivation
I hope that my passion for math would lead me to initiate additional projects that help to positively impact the value of STEM for Filipino women.
Big words? Tall order? I think so but it doesn’t dampen my spirit and will never be, not this time when we’re all expected to be resilient. I want to make even a small difference amid the pandemic.
I’m excited, too, about the warm response the program itself has been getting. More teachers and parents have expressed interest to let their girls join, not because it’s free but because of the nurturing that goes with it. We’re building an ecosystem of support and motivation to learn more, to be up to the challenges despite all the COVID-related restrictions.
A public school district supervisor in the South Luzon area persuaded her principals to let their best pupils join us. It was a rare opportunity, she said. Another civic organization has also approached us for a partnership and would help us with recruitment efforts. Local and foreign experts will be lending their time as sharers to inspire our girls. So yes, we’re open to more linkages and volunteers, as well.
Amazing, smart, highly driven
The girls come from Metro Manila and some provinces within Luzon. A new batch from Bicol will be joining us soon. They’re amazing, smart and highly driven, and are all hoping to make it big in the field of STEM, as young as they are now.
One of them, for instance, would like to become an astrophysicist and be part of future explorations in Mars. It’s fascinating to learn about this aspiration and I am twice thrilled to support her.
It must be the big sister in me which prompted that sense of service to share whatever knowledge I have. Serving and learning can coexist, and it’s true, the passion to share one’s gift goes beyond mere academic excellence. I’m lucky that at least four of my fellow British School Manila math enthusiasts have joined me in the outreach. And more will be following suit, I’m sure.
I feel the most inspired and in touch with myself whenever I get to see how our members at Girls for STEM are working hard toward their dreams. There’s this satisfying sense of accomplishment and hope reflected in their eyes that I would never dare miss out on. This is just one of the wonderful things that keeps me going, never failing to remind me of the dedication I need to reach my goals in life.
I’d like the girls to have that necessary grit to compete and learn from both their small victories and even shortcomings. I have a lot to share, in a way, based from previous stints in several math championship events. Soon, I’ll be off to Stanford University Mathematics Camp and the University of Michigan Math and Science Scholars Program, but I’m more excited about echoing all the great lessons I’d be getting from there with our members.
Like the brilliant Girls for STEM, I also have big dreams—to seek my own passion which is also meant to serve others. This, I think, is bigger than myself. Our journey is only just beginning. And I’m excited for so much we are set to achieve. —CONTRIBUTED INQ
The author, 16, is a Year 10 student at British School Manila.