Globally, it’s estimated that 80% of all future jobs will require some form of education in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). But unless there’s drastic change, most of those jobs will be taken by men, widening the already substantial gender gap.

An important part of reducing the divide is ensuring that girls and women stay interested in STEM throughout their education and careers.

Right now, there’s significant room for improvement on that front. A 2017 study found that girls become interested in so-called STEM subjects by age 11 but have lost interest by age 15. There are several reasons for this, including conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models.

Small wonder then that women make up just over a quarter of the computing workforce in the US.  It’s hardly better in South Africa, where only a third of all startups (so crucial to growth in an economy that desperately needs it) have a female founder.

It’s clear then that South Africa, like so much of the world, desperately needs to work on reducing the STEM gender gap. And it needs to do so at every level, from basic education through to the workplace.

While a lot of that change requires shifts in government and workplace policies, parents can also play a role when it comes to fostering their daughters’ love of STEM subjects.

That just doesn’t mean being supportive either. It also means using the right technological tools.

When it comes to mathematics, for instance, they can expose their daughters to something like Smartick.

An AI-based, online, after-school math program for children (ages 4-14), Smartick was started in Spain but is currently used in over 100 countries.

It adapts to each child’s level and learning pace in real-time, allowing them to work according to their math needs and learning pace. Eight out of ten students improve their grades in mathematics and 94% increase their ability to calculate, logic and solve problems.

This startup, which was founded in 2011 by two Spanish entrepreneurs, Daniel González de Vega and Javier Arroyo, has received numerous awards. In 2016 Smartick was selected as one of the 15 best world startups of the year by the jury of The Next Web in NY.

Since launching in South Africa in 2017, the online tool has helped thousands of children change their attitude towards what can be an incredibly challenging subject.

“For girls especially, the Maths classroom can quickly become intimidating and unwelcoming, pushing them away from the subject and the opportunities it opens up,” says Smartick co-founder, Javier Arroyo. “That means it’s incredibly important for their to be other outlets where girls can develop a love for Maths”.

In fact, Smartick’s own data shows that boys and girls perform equally well on the app.

According to Arroyo, there’s a good reason for this:

“We believe that boys and girls perform equally well when using our app, because they work at home without peer pressure, away from the constant competition in the classroom,” he says.

Smartick uses the latest artificial intelligence to adapt to the child’s learning style, quickly addressing areas where the child needs to improve on. Once they are fully versed and competent, the app moves the child to the next level, unlike paper-based programmes that force the child on a predefined path.

Using Smartick, 94% of students improve their ability to calculate and solve problems, even reinforcing reading comprehension.

While one app can’t completely change the face of STEM, providing girls with a safe outlet where they can build mathematical confidence provides a solid base for future success.

In order for South Africa to succeed economically, it needs its gender parity in the STEM space. And, ultimately, reducing the gap between men and women starts with ensuring that girls have the same chances of success as boys at an early age.

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