Why is Russia so good at encouraging women into tech?

The BBC reports that impressively, Irina Khoroshko, from Zelenograd near Moscow, had learned her times tables by the age of five.

Her precocious talent, encouraged by a maths-mad family and a favourite female teacher who transformed every lesson into one giant problem-solving game, led to a degree in mathematical economics at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.

Now Irina, 26, is a data scientist at Russian online lender, ID Finance, enjoying a lucrative career devising analytical models to determine loan eligibility.

And this isn’t an unusual story in Russia. But it is in many other countries around the world.

Several studies confirm that all too often girls’ early interest in Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – fizzles out and never recovers.

So relatively few women go on to choose engineering or technology as a career. Why?

A new study from Microsoft sheds some light.

Based on interviews with 11,500 girls and young women across Europe, it finds their interest in these subjects drops dramatically at 15, with gender stereotypes, few female role models, peer pressure and a lack of encouragement from parents and teachers largely to blame.

Not so in Russia.

Russian girls view Stem far more positively, with their interest starting earlier and lasting longer, says Julian Lambertin, managing director at KRC Research. 

Russian girls cite parental encouragement and female role models as key, as well as female teachers who outnumber their male colleagues presiding over a curriculum viewed as gender neutral.

When the Department for Education asked a cross-section of British teenagers for their views on maths and physics, five words summed up the subjects’ image problem: male, equations, boring, formulaic, irrelevant.

Alina Bezuglova is head of the Russia chapter of Tech London Advocates, an organisation that connects Russian talent with job opportunities in the UK.  

According to Ms Bezuglova, Russian women’s foothold in science and technology can in part be traced back to the Soviet era, when the advancement of science was made a national priority. 

“It never occurred to me at school that because I’m a girl I shouldn’t be choosing Stem, and in the workplace I don’t see much sexism, only that you’re judged on your abilities,” she says.

Read more Why is Russia so good at encouraging women into tech?

Do we need to have a more hands-on, practical application approach when teaching STEM to girls? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter ~ Tamsin

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