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Misconceptions - Gender, Sports and STEM

This morning I am sitting reflecting about the amazing PD Day camps we ran yesterday and thinking about how to make the Active Scholars camp experience even better. We launched our first ever Active Scholars camp (basketball and robotics) yesterday in Ajax and in Guelph, and it was a success on so many levels: 80 participants in total, amazing reviews and feedback from both kids and parents. To sum it up, the campers were engaged and had a blast.

While I am happy with the successful launch, there is always room to improve and I always strive to do better. In this spirit, I have noticed that the biggest area for improvement is one that keeps haunting me: the female to male ratio in sports specific and STEM specific activities. Using yesterday as the latest example, at our Ajax site, 32% of our participants (“Scholars”) were female, even though 75% of our staff were female. Did our young female Scholars slay in the classroom as well as on the court? Most definitely! Did our young male Scholars, who also did their share of slaying, learn and enjoy the activities under majority female leadership? Absolutely! The boys hung onto every word because our female leaders were strong, articulate and engaging. The boys did not care that most of the counselors were female; they respected and worked with them to grow and have fun.

The Guelph site ratio was even more startling: only 5% of the participants in Guelph were female. FIVE! What is going on!!!!!!!

As a society we can do better, let’s stop putting girls in a box of princesses and ballerinas. By not including girls in sports or STEM programs, we narrow their opportunities for growth and development in a significant way. You see, by not having them participate in sport or technological learning, we are telling them that their bodies are not strong or resilient enough to compete physically and that they don’t have the intellectual strength and resilience necessary for STEM programming. We are telling them that a significant part of society is not for them: That they are not smart enough to make robots, they are not smart enough to be engineers, for example. We are shutting off their voice, we are not giving them the self confidence to be assertive and speak up. And why does all this you want your daughter to have a good job? Do you want your daughter to be respected and admired? Do you want your daughter to speak up when someone disrespects or bullies her (especially the opposite sex)? Of course you do! I bet the majority of society doesn’t even realize that we are subconsciously narrowing young females opportunities to succeed.

As a teacher, I have seen too many examples of brilliant, articulate, creative young ladies that are too shy to speak up in class and share their answers, too shy to compete with the boys in Physical Education, too shy to make a mistake in front of the boys.

We, as a society, must do better. We have to break these gender stereotype boundaries and it starts at home. There can be numerous campaigns and messages about female empowerment, but if parents and the influential adults in our young people’s lives don’t see the value, we are doomed.

Active Scholars is all about having children expand their minds and giving them the confidence to exceed in life. The value of growing the mind and body simultaneously cannot be overstated. Young girls need this just as much as young boys.

About the author, Christa Eniojukan is a teacher, coach and CEO of Active Scholars, a program that incorporates S.T.E.M. learning and sport training. She enjoys helping children of all age groups meet their full potential in sport and education.

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