The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has designated the fourth Thursday of every April as Girls in ICT Day. This day is meant to inspire and encourage more girls to step into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) sphere, despite the digital gender divide that exists. This year, Girls in ICT Day falls on April 27th, and the theme for the day is “Digital Skills for Life”.
We spoke with three participants in the Young Safe Internet Leaders Hybrid Camp (YSLC) Year 5 who shared with us their stories, interests, and inspirations behind their pursuit of technology.
Nutcha Ngaoprasertvong is a Mathayom 5 student majoring in Engineering – Artificial Intelligence (E-AI) at the Srinakharinwirot University’s Prasarnmit Demonstration School (Secondary). Her interest in technology was influenced by her mother, who works in the field of cybersecurity. She was also drawn to the high demand for cybersecurity development and the need for people with related skills in the labor market. In her opinion, AI is an essential component of various innovations, supporting coding, application development, robot control, cybersecurity, and much more.
Kochaporn Neovakul, a Mathayom-6 student at the St. Francis Xavier Convent, said she became interested in science during her late early teen years. At that time, she was so focused on losing weight that her workouts became excessively strenuous and detrimental to her health. As she began to experience adverse health effects, she reached a “turning point” in her life. Since then, she has been eager to learn more about how the human body functions. As she continued her studies in senior secondary education, she opted for the Science – Math program, with a focus on Health Sciences. Titirat Chunhom, a Mathayom 5 student at Suankularb Wittayalai Nonthaburi School and also enrolled in the Science – Math program, shares Kochaporn’s passion for Health Sciences and aspires to become a doctor.
Navigating Obstacles and Empowering Change
According to the STEM Education for Girls and Women: Breaking Barrier and Exploring Gender Inequality in Asia report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, Thailand has made significant progress in terms of occupational freedom. The report indicates that 53% of STEM researchers in Thailand are female, a much higher percentage than developed nations like Japan, which records 15%, and South Korea, which registers 18%. However, the percentage of women in digital technology and engineering is lower, as evidenced by the proportion of girls enrolled in related study programs.
“Women’s access to engineering and technology field is more limited than men’s because of various obstacles such as prevailing gender-based career stereotypes, difficult entry to labor market, and gender gap in pay. The number of women studying engineering, which is fundamental to innovation and technology development, as a result is lower than men,” Titirat said. She suggested that the government play a role in attracting more women to tech fields and encouraging more girls to pursue tech-related study programs so that technology designs can better serve diverse needs in society.
According to Nutcha, girls make up only one-third of the students in her E-AI class, which is designed to prepare learners for further education in computer engineering or related fields. When she participated in a school-level startup camp a few years ago, she observed that girls were mostly assigned administrative tasks, while boys were assigned tech-related assignments.
“Career stereotypes still prevail in Thai society especially in the field of technology. Men far outnumber women in tech areas despite the fact that people, regardless of their gender, should be able to work based on their expertise and interest. Each person has value to society in different ways,” Nutcha said.
“STEM education needs to integrate various sciences and diverse perspectives for it to deliver innovations and solutions that benefit a large number of people,” Kochaporn said. “More women should be empowered to get into tech. Gender biases should not exist in educational and career fields because people should be treated equally no matter what their gender is.”
Digital Skills for Life
In the face of rapidly-evolving technologies and an increasingly digitalized world, all three participants emphasized the importance of “digital skills” in life, which can be categorized into two groups: basic skills and advanced skills.
Basic digital skills are essential for individuals to use technology effectively and safely. With digital literacy skills, people can protect themselves against various online threats, including cyberbully, spams, and online sexual exploitation, which can be particularly harmful to children. In light of this, Nutcha, Kochaporn, and Titirat applied for the YSLC program to deepen their understanding of online threats, specifically child online sexual exploitation, and to play a role in designing public services to help prevent such exploitation.
“When I was 14 and passionate about Japanese culture, I had a first-hand experience with Online Sexual Exploitation,” Kochaporn shared. “I started chatting with a Japanese man online, and after a while, he asked me to meet him at a hotel. Fortunately, I was able to foresee the danger in time. It made me realize that online threats are pervasive and closer to us than we may think. Everyone is at risk of becoming a victim if they lack digital literacy and awareness of cyber threats.”
Advanced digital skills, such as coding, AI development, and robotics, offer tech users greater career opportunities. The three participants expressed their hope for greater inclusion and diversity in the technology field, with opportunities available to people of all genders, to pave the way for greater equality in society.
Stay tuned to True Blog for more updates on ideas and efforts of the Young Safe Internet Leaders Hybrid Camp’s participants in designing public services to combat online child sexual exploitation.