HON. Liz Sandals MPP
Minister of Education

A stagnant trend

In 1969, I enrolled at the University of Waterloo for a Masters of Mathematics in Computer Science. I had just completed my Bachelor of Science at the University of Guelph and was excited about the prospect of studying the field further.

When I graduated from my Masters in 1971, I had been one of a handful of women enrolled in the program and almost all of my mentors in the faculty were male.

To be clear, I had a number of male peers and professors who were inspiring, intelligent, and talented people. Unfortunately – like many women at that time – I just did not see myself reflected or represented in the broader student body. In fact, by the mid-1970s, well under 10 percent of Canadian women were obtaining a university degree.

When I began teaching computer science at the university level, that trend continued — women were the minority.

A lack of representation

Today, women represent the majority of university graduates in Canada.

As a woman and as Ontario’s Minister of Education, that is a wonderfully encouraging statistic. The gains women have made in Canadian society over the course of my lifetime have been remarkable and I remain grateful to the trailblazers who have made that possible.

“I encourage all young women to get started early... have the confidence to raise your hand in math class, and show the boys how it’s done.”

Yet, when those numbers are broken down, there remains a notable lack when it comes to women’s representation in post-secondary education.

According to Statistics Canada, women only account for 39 percent of all Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) university graduates, and the majority of them studied biological sciences. This is not a question of women’s capabilities.

In fact, Statistics Canada also found that boys with lower math test scores are more likely to choose a STEM program, when going to university, than girls with higher test scores.

Leading change

So what’s the problem? It comes back to that same issue of women’s representation that I saw in the 1970s. We need to be role models, mentors, and examples for young women to not only continue to pursue post-secondary education, but also to choose the STEM path.

As someone with a background in math, these skills are a contributing component to success, regardless of the chosen career. As Minister of Education, with an annual budget of $25 billion, I can attest to just how vital those skills are.

Whether you are a politician, an engineer, a business person, or an electrician, the STEM sector provides a tremendous depth of knowledge and critical skills needed to succeed in the new economy.

I encourage all young women to get started early — enroll in these high school classes, have the confidence to raise your hand in math class, and show the boys how it’s done.  As Agnes MacPhail, Canada’s first woman elected to the House of Commons, once said, “never apologize. Never explain. Just get the thing done and let them howl.”