Majority of girls fail to see appeal of STEM careers, say reports

I Wish
Paula Neary, Accenture, and Caroline O’Driscoll, I Wish

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6 September 2017 | 0

Almost two thirds of girls say their parents are the biggest influence on subject choices at school but less than half of parents feel they know enough about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses to encourage them in this direction.

Carried out by I Wish and Accenture Ireland respectively, Choices, Chances, Changes 2017 and Powering Economic Growth: Attracting Young Women into STEM 3.0 found that when it comes to choosing what to study, 94% of girls said they are hugely influenced by how subjects are taught. However, one third of teachers said they did not know enough about STEM courses and careers.

Some 82% of respondents said they want a career where they can help other people, yet they cannot clearly see how STEM can facilitate that. One in four said they feel there are no financial rewards for a career in STEM.

Despite work being done to promote the sciences, parents and teachers still feel there has been little shift in gender difference.

The majority of teachers (94%) said they recognise the opportunities for STEM careers and 74% want more support though training and access to STEM role models and industry.

Almost a quarter of teachers said gender divergence in perceptions of STEM begin between the ages of 7 and 11, with 10% of teachers believing that the gender gap begins to appear before primary school.

More than half of parents (52%) admit to having personally made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys when it comes to STEM subjects and more than half of teachers (53%) have witnessed girls drop STEM subjects in school due to pressure from parents.

One third of parents and teachers (29%) still perceive STEM disciplines as more closely fitting boys’ brains, personalities and hobbies.

Knowledge is key
I Wish co-founder Ruth Buckley said: “Our research points to the significant role that teachers can play as a gateway to STEM careers. Where girls attend three STEM activities, they are more likely to choose STEM subjects.

“Giving teachers and girls knowledge, information and access is key. We cannot leave girls inclusion to chance, we need to have a consistent and systematic focus on STEM through our education system as well as supporting teachers, so that they can communicate and inform young girls on the value and opportunities of STEM subjects, courses and careers.

“An incredible 40% of the girls who attended I Wish have made changes to their subject or career choices. Collectively we can make a difference, but the time has come to do so in a sustained, systematic and focused way by mandating the inclusion of STEM activities into the curriculum. Let’s not leave the future of girls in STEM to chance.”

The report recommends a number of strategies for improving girls’ involvement in the sciences, such as early intervention to prevent negative perceptions of STEM at a young age; help for parents educate themselves further about STEM subjects; and training and supports for teachers that provide comprehensive information on science and technology careers and course options.

Paula Neary, client director, Accenture, said: “A new trend that has emerged is the need to change the ways that we talk about STEM careers. The report indicates that descriptive job titles such as ‘sports equipment inventor’ are more appealing to young girls than traditional jobs titles such as ‘engineer’.

“In order for Ireland to continue to compete on a global stage, we need to equip young people with STEM skills, and fast. The scale of digital disruption taking place across every industry means that the workforce of the future need to have a strong set of core skills which are developed through a STEM education.

“We need to inform and encourage girls in particular so that they see the possibilities of a career in STEM. Industry, government and education bodies need to come together equip women with new skills as contributors to the economy and to society, and ensure no girl is left behind as the world transforms.”

The I Wish survey, Choices, Chances, Changes 2017, is one of the largest surveys ever of Irish secondary school girls around Ireland on their attitudes to STEM; what influences them and what is important to them as they consider their leaving certificate subject choices and future career paths. A total of 2,397 girls across 15 cities and counties participated.

Powering Economic Growth: Attracting More Young Women into Science and Technology 3.0 builds upon the research carried out for the 2013 and 2015 reports. In the Republic of Ireland, the sample size was approximately 600 people, including students, teachers and parents. This research was undertaken in January 2017.

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