Eighteen teachers and students representing the UNESCO Associated Schools Network took part in the International Symposium and Policy Forum: "Cracking the code: girls' and women's education in STEMheld in Bangkok, 28-30 August 2017.

The International Symposium and Policy Forum presented latest findings from research and practice, facilitate policy dialogue, and make the case for strengthening girls' education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. It provided a platform for debate, hands-on learning, and innovation and consisted of interactive plenary and concurrent sessions, knowledge-sharing workshops, and an exhibition area.

UNESCO invited, through a call for applications, teachers specializing in STEM subjects and running innovative activities that engage girls in STEM, and equally students demonstrating active participation in concrete projects and activities in STEM.


ASPnet teachers and students traveled d for the first time from Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde, France, Lao (PDR), Lebanon, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and South Africa with a strong desire to explore the challenges that girls and women are facing to get equal access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and to share their own experiences.

The Symposium was structured in a fluid and dynamic way, thus enabling the teachers and students, separately from the plenary and public sessions, to focus their interests and to enhance their knowledge within a variety of freely debates and workshops under the motto Learn. Share. Enjoy!

Throughout the 3-day Symposium, the ASPnet participants were motivated to learn, share and interact with the nearly 350 participating delegates, including ministers of education, leaders in the field of STEM, and specialists in education and technology, gender equality and inclusion from over 70 countries. They have had several opportunities to intervene, discuss their STEM perspectives and practices in their schools and in their lives.

At the launch of the UNESCO Report: "Cracking the Code: Girls' and Women's Education in STEM", the ASPnet participants were left wordless to learn that in the world, there are still many ways to go for closing the global gender gap in STEM education. They said that everyone should stand to ensure that 'the' jobs of the future are also for women and girls and to reach the equal access to STEM education and careers, it is imperative that both boys and girls, men and women be given the same opportunities.

STEM-ASPnet-participants-with UNESCO-DG.jpgThe unexpected surprise of the opening day was the privilege for the whole ASPnet participants’ group to meet with the UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova for a brief exchange and a photo opportunity to immortalize this unique moment that reinforced their pride of belonging to the largest and oldest UNESCO network.

The Programme consisted of plenary sessions, combined with over 50 interactive concurrent panel discussions and skills-building workshops. During the Panel discussion: No longer invisible: Gender-responsive STEM curriculum and learning materials,  Marcelo Luis Amén, a Language Teacher from the ASPnet School "Escuela Normal Superior en Lenguas Vivas No. 2 Mariano Acosta" in Argentina, gave a presentation entitled Engaging girls in science through foreign language and social science studies.

ASPnet-Teacher-Student-Argentina.jpgHe explained how his school offers to the students at upper-secondary level scholar orientations that include Education, Human Sciences, Biological Sciences and Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Throughout his experiences, he noticed over years that the girls were very interested in languages but not in STEM subjects. He decided to add to his courses scientific contents for young people that emphasize the educational strategies in STEM. Hence, his approach enabled the students to build scientific vocabulary through languages. Santiago Vespoli, a high-school student in his last year studying physics and mathematics, completed the presentation with a lively intervention, stating that in chemistry and physics classes, there are only 6 girls for 20 boys. He described initiatives undertaken by his school to promote and encourage girls to choose STEM subjects, such as teaching "Logics" to think science as scientists, and robotics activities designed to attract both boys and girls in high school to develop their creativity, imagination and the immensity of possibilities that robotics can offer.

decoding.jpgIn addition, the Symposium was an opportunity for ASPnet teachers and students to seek new ideas and approaches for teaching/learning STEM and hands-on experiences during diverse workshops, such as:

aspnet-students.jpgThink Pink hard hat challenge: This project aims to break a stereotype with a stereotype i.e. using pink, which is considered a "feminine" color, to create awareness around STEM careers for girls. 

virtual-reality-platform.jpgVirtual reality as a gender change agent: Transforming STEM observers into participants by using lab stations in education and skills development, aimed at girls and young women. (photo: Trial of Labster's Virtual Reality laboratory simulations and its multiple utilities for the future)

Faspnet-intervention.jpgishbowl exercise: a live "chat" to share experiences, lessons learned and future opportunities to reach out, engage and empower girls in STEM education. An ASPnet teacher stressed that the educational approach of ESD and the whole school approach (Link OTA) strongly activate STEM as a means to address the urgency of transforming society and the current way of life. UNESCO's international flagship project on climate change education is therefore fully consistent with STEM for girls and boys to take advantage of several SDGs simultaneously.

At the Closing plenary: STEM Education for girls: A complex formula,  ASPnet student Letícia Priscila Oliveira Peixoto de Sousa from the Escola Secundária de Chão Bom in Brazil was invited to share her thoughts about the Symposium: "…What the global community can do to improve girl's education? And the answer was right here. In Thailand..."

The ASPnet participants left with a strong determination to continue their exchange and collaboration across continents, and with UNESCO – through social media and e-mail, but also some exciting plans for visiting each other during the next year. 


An adventure that continues
The Symposium was a great opportunity for ASPnet teachers and students to showcase their experiences and to make valued contributions about their current and future perceptions. Their active participation during the debates opened up perspectives to empower girls to access STEM education within their schools and communities. It served as a source of inspiration to continue working together and a few participants have already started kicking off twinning activities, thereby ensuring a multiplier effect through advocating for equal access to STEM for All.

- Prowd to be STEMinist - Read about the teachers and students feedback

Photos collection to keep the spirit of moving forward

- Learn more about UNESCO Education and Gender Equality webpage