NOTING the lack of women pursuing careers in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem), the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) started a new campaign to create a group of future-ready girls.

A social impact program called #STEMPower Our Girls, implemented by PBEd and communications firm Evident Communications, aims to address the disparity between the number of men and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

“In the work places in general, we are seeing a movement towards the next wave of industrialization. So if you may have heard the term Industry 4.0. The rise of automation, computing big data, storage, inga ana, changes the way we work today,” Justine Raagas, director for Workforce Development of PBEd, said.

“So PBEd comes in saying, ‘Hey, can we prepare our learners of today to be ready for the jobs of the future?’ And diha namo nakita nga Stem is a way to go,” she added.

The program, funded by Investing in Women, an initiative of the Australian government, are implemented in three pilot areas: Metro Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

Through the #STEMPower Our Girls program, more than a hundred of grade 6 students from public schools across the country will receive specialized training and mentorship from the Philippines' top women scientists, technology and innovation drivers, and industry captains.

According to PBEd, middle school is where girls have a considerable level of interest in Stem, however, this diminishes as they enter the high school years.

It is even more challenging for girls when they are in an environment with reinforced beliefs that STEM is only for boys.

“What we're seeing now is that one, we need to encourage more people in Stem, further need to encourage more girls in Stem. And then we need to start early, as early as grade 5 and 6,” Raagas said.

“How do we encourage more girls to go to Stem? First, firsthand experience, that's why na conceive ang workshops. Second, they have to be introduced to role models, they have to see careers, that's why we have the Career Caravan and we have the industry talks. May mga speakers. And lastly, the community should be activated to encourage that,” she added.

There are five phases of the program: 1 Partnership Forum that gathers stakeholders from schools in order to cascade the campaign details; Recruitment; Career Caravan, that highlights possible STEM careers, and Industry Talks; Seminar Workshops to refine the aptitude and attitude of the participants; and Culminating Fora, wherein the attendees will process, synthesize, and evaluate the entire activity.

At present, the PBEd has already started recruiting 40 sixth grade girls in Cagayan de Oro. The 40 girls will be chosen based on academic merit (a science grade of at least 85) and proclaimed interest in STEM.

The success of the program would be determined by the participants' inclination to enroll in a science high school or take a STEM-related college course.

“So out of the 40, pila ang mo enroll, how many will then enroll in a science high school. Because if it works, then we can scale that with the help of the Department of Education, with other partners, it can be implemented in schools,” Raagas said.

Philippine Business for Education is a non-profit organization founded in 2006 by top CEOs in the country. It is the business community's response to the need for greater education and economy alignment.