More girls in STEM-classes could bridge Sri Lanka gender digital divide

apparel worker
Sri Lanka’s apparel sector showed growth

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka should make extra efforts to get more girls educated in STEM or science-based subjects to eliminate gender discrimination in the emerging fourth industrial revolution that’s changing employment prospects, a new report said.

“The impact of structural change in the labour market on women due to the 4IR will be particularly appalling,” the State of the Economy report by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), a semi-government think-tank said.

“Given that women are already underrepresented in tech jobs, they are more vulnerable to job losses due to the 4IR.”

According to predictions and estimations, some existing sectors as well as job categories will become obsolete due to automation.

“Job losses for women are predicted to be more than for men,” IPS said, noting the need for more girls to study STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects on which 4IR is based.

The report said there were both opportunities and threats to women’s employment in the technological changes under way.

“Entrenched inequalities and discriminatory social norms that keep women restricted to low-paid, poor-quality jobs are likely to further deepen by the 4IR,” the report said.

Studies on transformation of occupational structures due to the 4IR have seen job losses in both male-dominated occupations such as construction, and female-dominated occupations such as clerical work.

Evidence indicates major gains in some male-dominated occupations like information technology (IT) professionals, and some female-dominated occupations such as cleaners and helpers.

IPS said that given that women are more likely to be involved in repetitive work throughout the labour market, an average improvement of the content of women’s job might be expected if automation occurs mainly in relation to repetitive or routine tasks.

“It is predicted that this could thus raise the quality of women’s jobs, while reducing their number.”

The fourth industrial revolution is also expected to bring in some critical changes to existing gendered norms and roles in the labour market.

“It will reverse the gender stereotypes created by the first, by placing an emphasis back on human talent such as ingenuity and creativity, and not on traditional masculine skillsets,” the IPS report said.

“On-demand production of customised products and talent will be the most valuable asset in the 4IR. In an economy which is based more on talent and less on capital, there is a higher prospect of women being treated more equally. Further, there will be fewer obstacles for women to talent acquisition and retention.”

The IPS study noted that the platform economy will allow women to work remotely, where flexibility allows them to access the labour market and remain in it.

“A comprehensive restructuring of the education system will be needed to fulfill the requirements of the 4IR.

“STEM-based education can play an important role as a stepping stone to the era of the 4IR. New STEM-based subjects such as genomics, data science, AI, and robotics will be in demand that need to be taught.

“Existing gender imbalances in STEM education, where girls are at a more disadvantaged position, suggest that extra efforts are needed to enhance girls’ participation in STEM education.

IPS suggests increasing the number of subject qualified teachers and schools offering such classes are key steps which should be taken in order to enhance STEM education in Sri Lanka.
(COLOMBO, 26 November 2019)