Let’s Talk Science President Dr. Bonnie Schmidt responds to Coding is the new cursive writing

In support of Kelly Lovell’s “Coding is the new cursive writing – and we have to embrace it” (July 23), I encourage all Canadians to join efforts to shape learning opportunities for kids. As the founder of Let’s Talk Science, a national organization that has supported over 5 million youth and educators in developing their STEM skills (STEM is science, technology, engineering, math), I have witnessed dramatic changes in how we view the issue. There is growing awareness that “STEM” builds critical competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving, digital skills, and resiliency and are not just content-laden subjects.

It will take collective effort to ensure our kids are ready to be engaged citizens and leaders in a world aptly described by Ms. Lovell. We invite everyone to shape the future of STEM learning at Canada2067.ca. With founding partners Amgen Canada, Trottier Family Foundation, Hill+Knowlton Strategies and 3M Canada and many champions across the country, we are redefining the future for girls and boys.

Gender issues in STEM are complex. Over the past decade, international tests in science have shown no difference in performance between girls and boys. The gender gap in math is also closing. However, confidence levels are not tied to performance and girls continue to underestimate their own abilities. The 2015 PISA report indicated that more girls than boys aspire to STEM careers overall. However, at post-secondary girls are still much more likely to choose life sciences over engineering. The best outcomes will be achieved with gender balance and cultural diversity across all fields.

With respect to ICT (information and communications technology) jobs, we tend to focus on the gender gap but miss the other challenge – practically no youth see themselves in ICT careers! The 2015 PISA results showed that while ten times more Canadian boys than girls aspire to ICT work, the actual percentage of boys who do is less than four per cent. Globally, Canada is actually above the international average of two per cent. Hardly a ranking that should please us and the federal CanCode funding program should help.

As volunteer Chair of the National Leadership Taskforce on Education and Skills at Information and Communications Technology Canada (ICTC), we are working to improve digital literacy across society. We recently released #ICT4All to showcase resources available across Canada and are now developing a digital literacy framework.

Amongst adults, there definitely is a gender gap in STEM careers. Women are disengaging for many complicated reasons. Policy changes are welcome and underway, including the announcement by The Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, to significantly improve female representation in the Canada Research Chairs program. Industry leaders are strongly encouraged to revise corporate policies and culture to enhance inclusivity and better support the participation of women.

As we celebrate Canada 150, we must not be complacent. It is critical that we look to the future and work together to ensure that all Canadians are well prepared to contribute and lead – with special focus on all our kids.