Schoolgirl scoops national award for helping encourage a love of maths

Joely To, a pupil at Streatham & Clapham High School, won a Nottingham Building Society Innovative Young People award for Pioneer, an online space empowering girls to pursue a life in maths

An idea that came to fruition during the first lockdown has seen a maths-loving London schoolgirl win a £250 prize at Nottingham Building Society’s Innovative Young People of 2020 awards.

Joely To, a pupil at Streatham & Clapham High School, won the 14-17 age category for establishing Pioneer, an online space designed to encourage more girls to pursue a life in maths.

“As a student applying to study maths at university, I was constantly told at their maths taster lectures that they lacked female applicants, [so] I decided to research maths societies for girls to join,” said To.

“However, all were aimed at undergraduate level and later, and I strongly believe that to create change it is crucial to start encouragement at a younger age.

“I to set up Pioneer with the aim of nurturing girls’ passion for maths beyond the curriculum and to help them build their confidence to pursue the subject at university and as a career.”

From the archive: Why is it socially acceptable to be bad at maths?

To that end, Pioneer has so far hosted 17 webinars and data challenges, and partnered with the likes of Experian, Zurich Insurance and Girls in Data. One 16-year-old performed so well in one of the challenges that Experian offered her a job after graduation.

Experts who have lent their help to the project include Francesca Kay (chief information officer at the Central Statistics Office), high profile women’s rights activist Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and Neil McIvor (chief data officer at the Department of Education).

“What makes Joely special is her sheer focus on adding value to the mathematical experiences of others,” said her maths teacher, Juliana Kirby.

“Her future plans include ensuring that girls never view school subjects – such as maths – simply in terms of the syllabus, but that they are aware of its real-world applications and are better informed about higher education and career choices.”

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