Girls Empowered

By Abbie Pumarejo 2019-11-25 15:45:28

How an international education fosters girls’ dreams and goals

Globally speaking, receiving an education is not a given or even an option in many places across the world. This is especially true if you are a girl.

In 2018, there were an estimated 130 million girls who did not attend primary nor secondary school, according to UNESCO. Unfortunately, gender discrimination is one of the many barriers to education around the world. Fortunately, as the focus on a global education curriculum increases, the situation can begin to change.

By today’s standards, a global education should move towards achieving a more just and sustainable world in which power and resources are more equitably shared. An article in states that a global education develops attitudes, skills and values which enable people to work together to bring about change and take control of their own lives. We focus on how an international school education fosters the ability for young women to not only develop competitive skills, but also allow them to achieve their dreams and goals. We spoke with several young women, as well as teachers at a variety of Shanghai international schools, to educate us on how this is happening in present day.

Danielle Thal, Head of Science and teacher of Biology and Environmental Systems and Societies at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS), Pudong, lets us know that next semester, their Secondary Science department is planning a school wide event meant to introduce all students to a diverse range of role models in the STEM fields. She goes on to explain that this day will involve members of the community who have careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sharing stories and activties about their career paths. 



“We have several Secondary students who are helping to plan the event as part of their IB Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) projects, which is fantastic! And last year I took a group of girls to the “Ladies Who Tech” conference in May and they found it to be very inspiring. The goal for me is to show all students a variety of role models so that they can see that any career they may have an interest in is not limited by gender.”

One of Danielle’s students, Natasha, has recently initiated a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA), to get more girls involved in and excited about STEM subjects. A Year 11 student, who has been at YCIS for 6 years, is positive about the school’s course selections.



“I feel courses like Global Perspectives and History are really appealing for females and we have great teachers who support us and are open to our questions. Also there are three female teachers in the Science Department, and I feel that all the students are given equal opportunities.”

In regard to the CCA, she says, “We will look at making science learning more approachable and will incorporate a whole range of interesting activities, such as using magic tricks to explain science. Psychology is a soft science that many girls are interested in and so we will be conducting some experiments related to psychology, with the help and support of an experienced female psychology teacher.”

Natasha is a young woman who has a vision: “I think I will become an entrepreneur who helps girls in the areas of STEM. I want to change the science and technology museums around the world so that they help get young girls more interested in science. I went to the Exploratorium in San Francisco when I was young, but I was a bit bored. I think there is more the museums could do to keep girls interested!”



Grace Yuan-Yuan Ho is a Grade 9 student at Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) Pudong in and has lived in Shanghai for 12 years. She embodies that female student who embraces the opportunities her school’s curriculum has to offer. She is currently taking design classes because she loves the atmosphere that the spacious design room offers. With separate rooms for building, learning, and technology, she is enjoying learning about laser cutting. But it doesn’t stop there for Grace. Another class she is passionate about is film. “There is something about holding a camera that allows me to express myself. I love taking pictures of people that are expressing their emotions, currently we are learning about the techniques to shoot film.”

As a well-rounded student who also participates in after school activities (Yearbook) and sports, Grace appreciates the camaraderie and teamwork that exist at SCIS and the fact that the campus size allows for smaller classroom numbers. She says it enables teachers to spend time with each student, “the opportunity to be in a small classroom helps with my growth. It gives me an invaluable boost and I believe that many other schools do not have this.”

As Grace is in the early stages of her high school education, she has time to consider the future and what she might want to pursue. As a child of two engineers with an older brother also pursuing a degree in engineering, you could say it is in her blood. However, Grace points out, “I am a little different. I am not 100% sure what I want to be. I am intrigued by the overall STEM subjects because there are so many opportunities and there is much to explore. I want to be involved in the field and see where it takes me.”



Tia Luker, STEM lead and Year 5 Teacher at Wellington College International Shanghai, emphasises that by giving girls the opportunity to participate in STEM subjects, particularly engineering and science, from a young age that this will help them discover their passion early.

“I have worked to develop the science and engineering strands in our Lower Prep, to streamline and strengthen those skills so that girls can have their interest piqued at a young age and move into the Upper Prep with a stronger and more confident understanding of science.”

She feels the Wellington staff have been integral in shaping such a rich experience for the pupils by providing role models of different genders and races, and normalising participation in STEM subjects. “Regardless of gender, creating opportunities for all pupils to participate helps to shape the world view of both girls and boys, thus giving them the widest range of possibilities for their future.”

It is of no surprise then, that Emmie, a Year 13 student at Wellington, has the drive and desire to pursue a career in science. Currently, Emmie is studying for the IB Diploma, taking HL biology, chemistry and English, as well as SL Maths, History and AB initial Mandarin. “I really enjoy understanding why certain aspects of human physiology and other organisms are constructed in such highly specific ways, and taking chemistry helps me understand these structures on a molecular level. I chose Mandarin as my language of choice as I hope it will be a very useful skill in the future, and it is a brilliant opportunity to learn and use such a widely spoken language in its country of origin,” she says.

Having an international education and living in a foreign country has afforded Emmie the opportunity to pursue her dreams, experiencing no limits on what she can achieve by following a certain path. Unsurprisingly, she let us know that her school offer courses that are not gender biased and has always felt encouraged to study a science-based career. “A lot of my friends also would like to pursue careers in the STEM subjects, e.g. Medicine, Chemistry and Biochemistry. In fact, the majority of people in my year applying for science-based courses are females!”

She concludes that learning at Wellington extends beyond the physical walls of the building. “This education has provided me with many skills other than those gained in the classroom. I believe I am now more driven and confident in seizing opportunities, and this education has given me a more open-minded outlook on the world. I’m excited to see where Biology takes me in the future.”



Not all young women want to pursue a career in the STEM subjects, and that is perfectly fine. What is most important is that they feel encouraged in any of the choices that they choose to make. Evelyn, a Year 12 student at Concordia International School Shanghai, points out,“I feel like my education has prepared me with the foundations to achieve my goals in the future. My peers and my school have been pretty supportive; collectively, we have built an encouraging environment that sends the message that women are smart and powerful. Having an international education also allows us to gain more perspectives from around the world, which is always helpful.”

Evelyn is interested in studying the humanities in college, particularly political science. “A lot of my classes this year are social science-heavy. After school, I’m the leader of a student-run social enterprise called Xiaohusai; we sponsor scholarships for five children in Yunnan.” She says Concordia’s curriculum is definitely supportive of female goals into adulthood. “I’d say half the girls at Concordia are going into STEM. A lot of my friends are interested Science and Maths, so they’re just deciding to go for it and pursue their passions. Females in STEM have a strong presence in my community.”

As part of the awareness that not all girls around the world are able to enjoy an international education, Concordia teachers and students began an initiative about gender equality. High school English teachers Dagne Furth and Lee Anne Lavender (also the Service Learning Coordinator) explain the idea:

“The Lily Project began two years ago thanks to a joint intiative developed by students on the Applied Learning Global Development Studies course. These students wanted to address one of the UN’s Global Goals about gender equality, and their goals that semester were to run some evening events for girls at Concordia (high school and middle school) whereby peers could discuss issues related to gender, identity, safety, and empowerment within their own lives.

This same group of dedicated students also aim to raise awareness about gender equality through intiatives such as organising boxes of menstrual products in the women’s bathrooms. Throughout the year and during Concordia’s annual Christmas Bazaar, the Lily Project raises awareness and support on behalf of disadvantaged women and girls around the world.

It is heartening to see that in Shanghai, education is not only important but essential for all. I come from a generation where I was not encouraged in the STEM subjects until high school. By then I felt it was too late for me to “get” subjects like Physics and Chemistry, and I dreaded Maths. This was to my distinct disadvantage. Women today still have many barriers to face, but as these young women have told us here, they are more empowered than ever before and see a future where anything is possible.