Closing the Gender Gap: How Play-Based Robotics Education Can Empower Girls in STEM

May 15, 2023
STEM Education
whalesbot as robotics kit

Women make up only about 25% of the STEM workforce, a statistic that has remained largely unchanged for decades despite tens of billions invested to address the issue. While women comprise 48% of the general workforce, they hold just 15% of engineering positions and 26% of computing jobs according to recent reports. If we hope to achieve gender balance in technical fields that are increasingly shaping our future, we must provide girls access to high-quality STEM education at an early age.  

Research led by Stanford Professor Jo Boaler shows that a "confidence gap" in abilities can emerge between girls and boys as early as age 5, even when their skills are comparable. This stereotype disproportionately impacts girls, leading many to self-select out of STEM career paths before ever realizing their talents or potential.  

The result is what Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code calls our "gender diversity crisis". Girls receive little exposure to technical skills and fewer opportunities to develop confidence in those abilities at a young age. A study from Microsoft found that giving girls hands-on experience with computer science concepts helps address misperceptions and builds self-efficacy, but few girls receive such opportunities in traditional education models.  

Educators today must work to dismantle stereotypes by providing girls engaging, interactive experiences that make technical subjects personally meaningful during critical years when career perceptions first form and take shape. Organizations on a mission to close the STEM gap through access are creating pathways for girls into fields where they remain underrepresented.  

At WhalesBot, our hands-on STEM education robot solutions give girls a chance to learn coding, programming and problem-solving through open-ended play and construction. Our guided curriculum and simplified programming options show how innovation can be exciting, creative and collaborative. With interactive kits requiring no screen, girls build skills and confidence over time through experimentation in a supportive environment.    

Following examples, 3-year-olds and up create everything from basic robots to complex machines. Our "low-floor, high-ceiling" approach meets each student where they are, allowing them to progress at their own pace as new ideas and abilities emerge through play. With WhalesBot, any girl can experience the joy of designing technologies capable of movement, light shows and more using interactive cards to activate sensors and motors without a computer.    

By nurturing skills like logic, resilience and out-of-the-box thinking in communities of practice, play-based robotics education helps address barriers preventing greater gender diversity in STEM. Access to open-ended technical problem-solving at an early age gives girls opportunities to develop passion for those subjects by building real-world skills and envisioning their potential over time.      

With support from educators and access through organizations working to establish STEM-literate foundations and confidence in students from an early age, girls today can achieve anything they imagine tomorrow. But we must act now to shape new perceptions of who belongs in technical roles by providing opportunities for engaged, hands-on discovery of computer science, robotics and programming concepts beginning in childhood.  

At WhalesBot, our vision is a future where people of all backgrounds have equal chance to achieve positions of leadership and influence in fields driving progress. By empowering young girls with access to 21st-century skill development through play, we open doorways to possibility and work to build the belief that they, too, can become inventors, innovators and technology creators. Together, we make that future an open-ended adventure in the power of learning to build for big dreams.