At girls’ schools in the 21st Century, we believe in pushing boundaries to discover new possibilities. It’s all about innovation, which is key to our success as educators, as schools, and, perhaps most importantly, for our students as they move beyond Tintern into the real world.
As our global market place is constantly changing, we can no longer only educate tomorrow’s leaders and workforce for specific occupations. In order for our girls and young women to be successful, we must educate them to be more innovative and creative.
Being innovative is about looking beyond what we currently do well, identifying the great ideas of tomorrow, and putting them into practice.
One call that we regularly hear from both academia and business is that more women are needed in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and Mathematics. This was particularly highlighted when I attended a Girl schools conference in the United States, earlier in the year. But how best to encourage girls to consider careers in STEM?
Simply encouraging girls to take risks and be the best they can be in any subject, is a necessary step forward. For example, this year we launched our BRAVE theme for the first time where the letter B encouraged students to do their very best.
Creating an environment where it’s okay to take risks, will lead to trying out for a team, or putting up your hand in class when you’re not sure if you know the answer. We encourage them to be comfortable with a certain amount of discomfort; we think that this helps them learn new things.
So what programs can help this process?
First, experiential learning opportunities can help build confidence and self-esteem in girls as well as address gender inequality worldwide. An example is our interdisciplinary program where girls have the opportunity to explore and embrace STEM-related curricula and careers, and experience solving real-world problems. Two good cases are the Year 6’s excursion to CERES and study on water, when they discover the potential benefits to environmental sciences, and the Year 5 Camp at Narmbool where the girls spend two days learning about environmental matters.
Allied with this is learning to accommodate the concept of failure. Queensland academic, Rachael Sharman, suggests that parents can help their children by seeing failure as a necessary part of growing up. Research shows that high achievers “persist in the face of failure and develop creative problem-solving and emotional-coping strategies” and that, over time, “these strategies combine to create a seriously resilient person”. This is an absolute priority at Tintern.
Also crucial is the importance of appropriate role models who love science and maths, deflecting some of the media or popular culture messages that portray women as less capable of successfully studying these subjects than men.
In fact, simply encouraging our girls to take risks and be the best they can be in any subject leads many to consider these fields. This is the strategy here at Tintern. Our emphasis is girls learning, and if girls are interested and keen on a STEM subject then we’re going to make sure we support them, and we’re going to make sure that they have access to the best possible instruction, the best possible facilities and the best possible learning experience.
We’ve been doing so much, so well and for so long. The risk is that we can get stuck in our ways. How can we ensure that our past success moves us forward, planting our feet firmly in the 21st century in girls education? Prioritising STEM is a key stage in this process. My promise is that I will be working closely with our Mr Fry to ensure that this happens.