“To rise to the challenges of the 21st century, we need to harness our full potential. That requires dismantling gender stereotypes. On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s pledge to end the gender imbalance in science.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
For many years, women have been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), yet there is no shortage of inspirational role models for young girls considering a career in these domains. Women have been responsible for some of the most prolific scientific breakthroughs that have shaped the modern world, from Marie Curie’s discoveries about radiation, to Grace Hopper’s ground-breaking work in computer programming, to Annie Easley’s impactful career as a rocket scientist at NASA.
Even with some of the greatest female pioneers, a gender imbalance still exists in our societies today with UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) reporting that less than 30% of our world’s researchers are women. Any discipline that is too dominated by one gender can find itself easily trapped in paradigms that impede its progress. In a quest to reduce the gender gap and promote equality and empowerment, UNESCO established the “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” in 2015. Every year, this day serves to recognise the critical role women and girls play in science and technology.
One such inspiring individual is Ms Zainab Mala, a Science and Mathematics teacher at the Diamond Jubilee High School in Mumbai, managed by the Aga Khan Education Service, India. Like many in the teaching profession, Zainab constantly strives to create effective learning environments to inspire and enable students to fulfil their potential. Recently she was awarded the “Most Innovative IT Teacher Award” at the IT Guru Awards 2020 – demonstrating her commitment and the potential women have in science and technology.
Interestingly, Zainab had never tapped into her passion for technology. COVID-19 accelerated her growth in the digital domain; she reprogrammed her mindset, embraced new opportunities and began learning and integrating creative technologies into her classroom that went beyond Zoom, Google Classrooms and WhatsApp. She remarked:
“I adapted myself according to the need of the hour. The classes had moved online since the outbreak of the pandemic. But one thing remained the same – my zeal for teaching. It required me to develop my online skills, learn the use of new teaching tools and come up with innovative ideas to keep students focused. I attended webinars to learn about tools and free apps that could be used and experimented with them in my classes. I learnt to use an array of platforms such as Nearpod, Thinglink, Genially, Padlet, Book Creator, Wordwall, Buncee, [and] quiz apps such as Quizziz, Kahoot, and Plotagon for animated videos. My goal was that every class I taught should not only be different but also be better than the previous one, so that students make strides in their learning.”
Her work was appreciated across the school as she openly shared her new knowledge with her peers and offered them one-to-one support. One of her colleagues commented: “I was in a conversation with one of the Grade 10 students. I wanted to know how she was coping with the online classes – she said that Ms. Zainab teaching them biology and chemistry was a blessing.”
Selected from a pool of over 2,000 teachers, Zainab Mala is not only one of India’s Most Innovative IT Teachers, but she also represents the power of human potential when faced with challenges. As she continues her pursuit as a knowledge seeker and trailblazing teacher, undertaking continuing professional development courses to constantly improve her skills as a science educator, Zainab is setting an example and raising the bar for girls who aspire to successful careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.