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Scientist Dr Siti Kayriyyah Mohd Hanafia bagged the top prize in the FameLab International 2018 competition in the United Kingdom. Successful women scientists are an inspiration to female students taking up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects. - NSTP file pic

LETTERS: Feb 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and this year’s theme is “Investment in women and girls in science for inclusive green growth”. It is an opportunity to promote full and equal access to science for women and girls.

The day is also a reminder that women and girls can play a critical role in science and technology, and their participation should be strengthened.

Data from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation state that fewer than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women, and approximately the same percentage of female students are pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in higher education.

Globally, there are few females studying information and communications technology (three per cent), natural science, mathematics and statistics (five per cent), and engineering, manufacturing and construction (eight per cent).

In Malaysia, there has been a drastic drop in the number of boys and girls choosing STEM subjects in secondary and vocational schools.

In 2012, 48 per cent of students chose to take up STEM, which dropped to 44 per cent in 2018. In 2017, the number of students in local universities and colleges studying science, maths, computing, engineering, manufacturing and construction was 334,742, compared with 570,858 majoring in the arts and humanities, education, social sciences, business and law.

Last year, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry announced that it had set a target of 60:40 ratio, targeting 60 per cent of students majoring in STEM.

The ministry has since initiated the Energy, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (ESTECC) education programme to provide exposure in science to one million students and nurture their interest in the field.

However, this initiative is not the sole responsibility of schools. The government needs to work with non-governmental organisations, professional bodies and civil organisations to get rid of gender stereotyping.

So much more can be done as parents to encourage our daughters to take up science as a career. Schools can get women scientists, and even encourage older girls who are studying STEM subjects, to talk to younger students about their passion in science.

In the workplace, mentor programmes support women when they are working in a minority, with women in senior roles often keen to offer support to younger ones entering their field.

And one of the most important things is to make sure that girls see plenty of examples of successful women scientists in the news and media.

As the local contractor tasked with building the 192km Gemas to Johor Baru electrified doubletrack rail line, YTL Construction is a staunch supporter of promoting the STEM space to young girls in primary and secondary schools in Johor.

In partnership with Women in Rail Malaysia since 2018, both parties have developed a symbiotic relationship, actively conducting career talks at schools in Segamat, Labis, Kluang, Kulai and Johor Baru to shine a light on the railway industry, and the career options it offers.

These talks introduce female role models to young girls, who may have never thought of a career in sciences or engineering, and are now enlightened on the opportunities, jobs and even careers in the railway industry.

This is why Feb 11 will be celebrated by YTL Construction and Women in Rail Malaysia with career talks at three secondary schools in Johor Baru— SMK Sultan Ibrahim, SMK Infant Jesus Convent and Sekolah Tun Fatimah.

Recent studies suggest that 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist, and that shifts in the global job market will resultin the creation of 58 million new jobs, particularly in data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and software application development.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution on our doorstep, jobs of the future will be driven by technology and innovation, but women have less than two-thirds of the economic opportunities that men have.

It is incumbent upon all of us to raise our daughters to be courageous enough to walk down the road less travelled.

NATASHA ZULKIFLI

YTL Construction & Women in Rail Malaysia


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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