The girls in technology movement is on fire in the Silicon Valley. From unknown startups to tech giants like Google and Facebook, this tight-knit community is finally acknowledging the gender discrepancies in STEM education and participation, and making changes now to repair the problem for the future. iD Tech remains at the forefront of the movement, joining others like Girls Who Code and Code.org in pushing for change. Today, we couldn’t be more excited to announce the expansion of our partnership with TechGirls, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State to engage more girls in tech.
What is TechGirls?
As mentioned, TechGirls is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Legacy International in collaboration with iD Tech. Since 2012, TechGirls has brought 27 girls from Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and Jordan to Washington, D.C. as part of a three-week exchange program.
During the visit, the girls spend a week at iD Tech Camps learning how to program using Java and C++. This year, TechGirls has chosen to expand its partnership with iD Tech to send an additional five U.S. teen girls to camp with the TechGirls exchange students. iD Tech will provide the five girls with full scholarships to the summer camp, which will be held at American University.
What Keeps Girls from a STEM Education?
Girls in the United States face a number of barriers that both subtly and overtly ruin their chances for excelling in STEM fields. Yet the struggles we face become very small when we look at the challenges faced by girls in other regions of the world—specifically the Middle East and Africa. Girls in these areas face a number of unique challenges that make it harder for them to prepare for STEM careers:
- Cultural and/or social disapproval.
In the United States, girls often drop out of science and technology courses due to existing stereotypes claiming that science and technology are for boys, and boys only. (Check out the #LikeAGirl campaign for more on how stereotypes can be damaging to society.) In the Middle East and Africa, not only do societal and cultural norms prevent girls from seeking an education, but breaking these social “rules” can be dangerous for both the girl and her family. In some regions, militant groups have been demolishing girls’ schools, hoping to prevent girls from attending by creating an atmosphere of fear and violence.
- Extremely limited access to technology and education.
Limited access to education of any sort—whether it be STEM education or general curriculum—is problematic for these girls, particularly for those who live in rural areas. Some must walk miles each day in extreme conditions, just to attend school. Once there, far fewer have access to STEM subjects, robbing them of the ability to build these important technology skillsets. Programs like TechGirls provide much-needed access to technology and science subjects.
The cost of a solid STEM education can be a huge burden on families, both due to out-of-pocket costs and the lack of income that the girl could be generating for her family. Many girls in the Middle East and Africa drop out of school at an early age to help around the house and ease financial burdens. Aid workers have found that when girls can prove that their education will ultimately generate an income, their families are more likely to be supportive of them pursuing a career.
- Lack of role models.
Inspirational sayings are a dime a dozen: Reach for the stars! You can do anything you set your mind to do! Nothing is Impossible! Yet it’s difficult to work hard for what you can’t imagine. Finding role models to show Middle Eastern and African girls that women are powerful and can pursue a number of fields (including STEM careers) is half the battle. That’s why TechGirls lets their exchange students meet with inspiring mentors from Google and other technology companies who currently work in STEM fields. Meeting with these living, breathing role models makes a huge impact.
TechGirls & iD Tech: The Spark that Will Start a Movement
At iD Tech, we strongly believe that educating girls will change the world. TechGirls’ mission mirrors this bold claim. As part of the exchange program, the girls are expected to take the knowledge and skills they’ve cultivated abroad and return home to their communities to teach others.
Radia Soulmani, for example, a TechGirls alumna from Safi, Morocco, returned home from the three-week trip to Washington, D.C. ready to make a difference. Within her community, she began teaching web design courses so that other children could learn the skills that she had acquired. Not only has she taught numerous kids at her local youth house, she was also able to share her experience at a TEDx conference. But don’t take it from us, take if from Radia herself:
International exchange programs like TechGirls are awesome, but every girl, whether she is from America, Africa, Morocco, Japan, or anywhere really, can and should have the opportunity to learn to use technology to make a difference.
Your daughter can learn to code in our all-girls summer tech camp, Alexa Cafe, or within one of our four co-ed tech programs. Is your summer already booked? Check out TechRocket, our online learning system that’s great for kids and teens. Images courtesy of the TechGirls blog.