Dear Parents and Guardians
I was drawn to the headline article in the latest Interesting Magazine, which stated that girls are not picking as many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects as boys, and that worldwide, professional female scientists are in fact dropping out of the field. It asked whether science had a problem with women. The article quoted some interesting statistics: the number of students graduating with STEM courses from South African universities in 2018 were 1 in 5 while eighty percent of jobs from 2020 would require STEM skills.
Our recent Science Week was key in getting students to reflect on the importance and relevance of our STEM subjects at the Preparatory School. The exciting and challenging thing about being in education is the need to constantly monitor and assess what is being offered in the curriculum against the required needs of society. It will indeed be up to our new generation to launch unimaginable innovations in the twenty first century and it is up to us to ignite their passion, create the skill set to make it possible and deliberately point our girls in the STEM direction.
What is interesting given the statistics is the perceived reluctance of girls to choose STEM careers. Our service industry has traditionally been top heavy with females but a change in focus to encompass STEM must now be intentionally pursued.
If women remain unrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science and physical science, what can we do to address this and why are our girls, capable and enormously creative, shunning this industry?
Neuroscientist, Nisha Cooch has an interesting perspective. She writes that while males and females have comparative abilities, there are definite sex differences at birth. Girls focus on the face while boys focus on mechanical objects. She concludes that boys and girls process information and learn differently to such an extent that it may contribute to the choice of non-scientific subjects girls are making.
The societal belief that males are better at the sciences still drag down a girl’s interest in STEM and therefore girls need our special encouragement to pique their interest. With this, we also must acknowledge that there is still an unconscious bias within the scientific, male-dominated workforce. Those women in the industry report that women are treated with suspicion, and that they still face discrimination and sexism. For this reason, we need to instill an early love of STEM to give girls a genuine passion and love for the subject to overcome other obstacles. By the time girls reach High School, it is too late.
In fact, while our girls are still at Preschool, we should be immersing them in the world of science and technology and encouraging them to design, prototype and create anything they want that practises problem solving, aspects of life in which girls do particularly well.
We need to be committed to finding female role models in this industry to address and inspire our students. So, if you are, or know of, a dynamic woman working in this area, please let us know. We would love you to be part of our girls’ journey. Our Friday assembly slots have broadened their experience of life but let us intentionally expose them to the world of STEM and explain the future possibilities in this area.
We need to emphasis the potential our girls have to improve things. Scientists and engineers are presently working on cures for diseases like Ebola, on controlling global warming, and providing clean water. They are developing renewable energy sources and designing gadgets - from wheelchairs to prosthetics. Our girls can be part of this creative problem-solving machine.
STEM is a quiet but growing and integral part of the Preparatory School curriculum at present. Girls in the FP from Grade 1 start with the iPAD and from Grade 2 are taught computer skills in their weekly lessons. They are becoming familiar with all the Office365 desktop applications, as well as understanding more about the world of technology. Throughout the school we have been slowly promoting coding using Beebots and Scratch/Scratch Jnr (software designed by MIT to introduce the concepts of Coding). We have also been building with Minecraft Education and working with MicroBits (a tiny programable computer) to develop computational and logical thinking. In the IP the girls will be working more with Spheros (programmable robots). Appropriate iPAD use is encouraged in every classroom. However, as robotics and coding become a greater part of everyday life, so will the Preparatory School narrative around STEM.
Our problem-based learning approach and integrative assessment is the perfect platform to promote this development. As a Round Square school, we also seek to make our girls explorers, inventors, creators and problem solvers. This fits so perfectly into the developing academic curriculum. I believe that recently we celebrated our first 'girl in blue' graduate as an astrophysicist. We hope to see many more taking their place in the world of STEM. The first steps are taken in early childhood and the role of the Preparatory School is to fan that interest with relevant and conscious teaching.
Carol te Water
Integrated Assessments in the Intermediate Phase
In our continued support of the High School’s affiliation to the IEB the Preparatory School is an active participant in the IEB Primary School’s Initiative. This participation includes the writing of IEB benchmarking assessments. These assessments use an integration of disciplines in their methodologies. We have decided to mirror this philosophy in an Integrated Assessment which our girls are going to write towards the middle of the Second Semester in Term 3. The date the assessment will be written this year is 28 August as per the Assessment Schedule.
English and Mathematics questions are teased, in an integrated approach, from a resource which is not necessarily linked to the curriculum. We strive to choose themes for these assessments which are topical and relevant to our girls’ lived experiences.
No preparation is required for the Integrated Assessments as they aim to assess the skills level which our students have attained. However, some grades may distribute the resources beforehand so that the girls can familiarise themselves with the content. We have been told that in some instances, these resources have formed an interesting context for family discussions as well.
Parent – Teacher meetings: 16 and 17 September
Teachers will be holding feedback meetings with parents on Monday, 16 and Tuesday, 17 September. Where teachers have specific concerns about their students, parents will be contacted directly. However, if you would like to see the teacher, do not hesitate to make an appointment. You will be able to book an appointment on BlueSky from 9 September. For working parents, there will also be one late afternoon available. If the times allocated do not suit you, please contact the teacher for an alternative date.
Congratulations to Jemma Levick who has been chosen to dance in the upcoming Cinderella production at the Artscape.