Thailand promoting female STEM education with UNESCO

With the goals of tapping the talents of all citizens and advancing gender equality, Thailand’s Ministry of Education said last week it will partner with the United Nations to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education among girls and young women in the Kingdom, becoming the first nation to adopt a U.N. policy toolkit for that purpose.

Thai educators will work with experts from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to improve STEM education for girls and young women as part of the 20-year national strategy Thailand 4.0 that aims to transform the Kingdom into a nation where innovation, creativity, research and development, and green and high-technologies drive the economy.

“Thailand will be the first country in Asia-Pacific to pilot a policy toolkit under UNESCO’s global STEM and Advancement, or SAGA, project aimed at analyzing the impact of policies on gender disparities in STEM, developing better indicators for evidence-based policy-making and building capacity to collect data on gender in STEM,” said Sophon Napathorn, deputy minister of education.

The policy toolkit includes appropriate funding, data disaggregated by gender, gender responsive career counseling, scholarships, programs for female STEM professionals, gender responsive teaching strategies and learning materials, among other elements.

Sophon made the announcement at a three-day UNESCO forum in Bangkok that focused on the global gender divide in STEM education. The meeting was timed to coincide with the release of a UNESCO report titled“Cracking the Code: Girls’ Education in STEM.” The report said that only 28 percent of researchers worldwide are women.

Girls face systematic challenges in STEM education beginning as early as primary school and that continues through higher education, according to the report.

“For progress to be meaningful it must include every woman and man. This is about finding ways to reach every girl and boy, and give them a chance to achieve their dreams,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general.

A previous UNESCO report on STEM education released in 2015 said that girls face obstacles such as gender stereotypes, lack of female role models in STEM fields, and social anxiety.

Nonetheless, it cited Thailand as one of only three countries in the Asia-Pacific region that has an above global average proportion of women researchers working in science, technology and innovation. According to the new report, in Thailand, women make up more than half of these researchers at 53 percent.

In higher education, women are also 53 percent of students in the sciences, however, they are less than 24 percent of students in engineering, manufacturing and construction studies.