There has always been a stigma where boys and men are more inclined to taking STEM Education and STEM careers. The majority think that they are more interested and more equipped in choosing this path than other courses and careers. But with this kind of mindset, less and fewer girls and women are becoming visible in the STEM field.
STEM Education in the World
In the recent studies in Youth in STEM Research in 2019-2020, 84% of women say that Technology is the most essential subject in STEM than Science, Mathematics, and Engineering. So the first question that comes to mind is, given this data, should I still allow my daughter to venture into STEM Education? And this brings up another question as to why are girls and women still behind STEM?
STEM Education in Australia
In Australia, many ways have been put together to promote the strong participation of women in the field of STEM. TA$3.4m budget is allotted for one project that allows more women to join STEM Education and the workforce. However, some experts warned Australia's National prosperity is still at risk in terms of systemic deficiencies in promoting gender diversity in line with STEM.
The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (AATE), launched a project called Women in STEM Decadal Plan. It aims to attract women and girls to pursue STEM.
Furthermore, it pursues to provide a viable environment for girls to flourish and excel in all stakeholders – education, government, academia, industry, and the broader community. They want to provide opportunities for women in terms of (1) cohesion and leadership, (2) evaluation, (3) workplace culture, (4) visibility, (5) education, and (6) industry action.
The decadal Plan began in 2019. This plan envisions strengthening the opportunities to create a strong STEM workforce in the year 2030 to support Australia's prosperity and security. With only 16% of women in Australia's STEM workforce, the Decadal plan wants to change that. It aims to create a future that is gender-based and diverse as well as globally recognised.
Why only a few Australian girls pursue STEM education and careers
Out of all Asia Pacific countries, Australia has the lowest number of girls (at most 27%) who take STEM subjects compared to India with 69% and China with 76% of girls.
In Australia, there are still gender gaps when it comes to STEM education and the workforce and even with other careers as well. Women and girls, even those in the minority groups, experience personal, cultural and career barriers from school place to workplace. Even the mindset of people within the family, relatives, or close friends can be roadblocks for women and girls to pursue STEM education and career paths in STEM.
What the Women in STEM Decadal Plan can offer
The Women in STEM Decadal Plan was created at the request of the Australian government so they can create a 10-year roadmap plan to have a sustainable increase in the number of women and girls' participation in STEM education until STEM careers. This plan has resulted from substantial research and consultation processes from every state and territories, acquiring valid information and discussion from different stakeholders.
One of the Decadal plan’s main goals is to break down all the barriers for women and transgender, cisgender, and non-binary individuals in the areas of STEM in Australia. It wants to attain systematic, sustainable and transformative changes in the STEM sector, both in education and the workforce.
The newly assigned Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, said that the increase in the need for women's participation in the world of STEM is driven by businesses and the urgent need for gender equality. She mentioned that for the large tech companies to continue operating in Australia, this country should focus on flourishing business competencies and adapt to new emerging economies to become more globally competitive again.
Women taking STEM subjects such as computing and engineering in universities remain underrepresented. In contrast, women are highly competitive in subject areas in medical science, health and biological sciences, with 53%, 57% and 70% respectively.
Even in private companies in line with STEM, women hold a few management and CEO roles. That's why the Decadal plan is established due to the continuous efforts and commitment of the Australian government to support and increase women's participation in STEM with about $4.5m budget last year for the ambassadorial role, Girls in STEM Toolkit and Women in Science Strategy. And this year, the $3.4m budget for the next four years so that STEM programs will continuously push through.
Barriers to Girls’ STEM Education
One of the major causes of the lower number of girls in STEM education is common stereotypes. Most people believe that titles like engineers, coders, and scientists are positively related to males. This masculine kind of stereotyping degrades the population of women in Science.
Besides that, schools also face the same issue as researchers found out that men are superior in maths and technology. If young ladies pursue the mentioned subjects like coding classes for kids, they acquire the labels of the “most studios young girls.”
Through these strong and alarming perceptions, girls prefer to continue with other fields even though they are highly inclined to STEM. Moreover, these young women are experiencing discrimination and belittling if they dream of taking any STEM-related track.
Another thing, the larger population of men in Science discourages women from enrolling. It could make them more uncomfortable, leading to heavier gender stereotyping.
#2 Content vs Context.
Teachers also take a considerable effect on students’ mindset of STEM education. The lessons and school assessments can also bring another impact to these young men and women.
One issue began when girls hit better grades in higher-level maths but lower results on admission tests. These unlikely results might be due to the disadvantaged use of the multiple-choice test. This study also revealed that girls are better to perform with open-ended answers rather than multiple-choice exams.
Men taking STEM exams achieve higher scores than women for almost 25% difference in scores. Through these results, women could get disappointed and prefer not to pursue any STEM-related fields.
You see, it could somehow become of the assessment type only! However, it can lead to a lower number of girls in STEM.
#3 Encouragement to take other courses.
Young girls’ environment could also hinder them from taking a STEM field. Why? These people might encourage them to pursue other courses that they believe to be suitable for girls.
For example, many girls dream of being an actress rather than an engineer. It is because they see the performing arts to be perfect for women. They also see successful female actors in television, film, and social media. However, it was not the drama field’s fault. But whose fault is it?
A young woman’s friend could encourage them to join the cheering squad rather than the math quiz bee. Also, parents may give them toys or materials that will train their minds to be right in other fields. As young girls see these items at a very young age, they are most likely to take them as their careers.
Even teachers could also input into learners' minds that every girl should audition to be the Juliet of “Romeo and Juliet” instead of inviting them to join campus science fairs.
Any of the reasons mentioned above could happen to a girl. They can think of this all the time as their physical, emotional, and mental health development are placed outside the STEM fields.
Clearly, digging into a young lady’s mindset could help them see the track that suits them well.
Girls’ STEM Education and the People
All members of society can participate in increasing the number of girls in STEM. They can do their parts and make changes to the typical stereotyping. Yes, these people should spend their time, efforts, and money to give massive contributions to girls’ STEM education.
Education starts at home, and parents should take responsibility for shaping their children’s mindset. They can give time to practice their young girls in obtaining STEM skills. Even the indoor and outdoor activities they perform during family bonding time can sharpen their kids’ STEM skills.
Moreover, toys, picture books, gadgets, and other tasks they give their girls can prepare their minds as early as possible. Imagine if a girl got a chance to play with puzzles instead of dolls. How can it contribute to their intellectual development? These puzzles can teach logical thinking, problem-solving, and computational thinking.
After school care programs and extracurricular activities for kids are also available for children. So, parents can enrol their children, especially their girls, to introduce basic kids coding and even take computer classes for kids.
Parents have a significant impact on their young lady’s careers as they are the ones to mould them since day one. So, would you let your child, boy or girl, make the most out of games or allow them to just enjoy without gaining any mental development?
#2 Schools and Teachers
School is the second home of students. They also have a significant part in moulding one’s mindset. Teachers and school personnel could arrange more activities and clubs with STEM themes open for boys and girls.
Students will experience science fairs, math and STEM camps, robotics classes for kids, artificial intelligence lectures, and even game development challenges through this. Girls will feel welcome to enjoying STEM stuff rather than excluding them from these activities. As a result, it could encourage them to pursue STEM careers in the future.
Schools can also choose great teaching aids and learning materials that are fun and interesting. They could use books featuring successful women in the Sciences. Their examples will encourage girls of all ages to consider STEM.
Moreover, rewards and recognition for young girls through STEM contests will boost their confidence in this field. They will believe that they could be successful in STEM.
#3 Government and Private Sectors
Besides parents and schools, the government can also take responsibility for inviting girls to STEM. Local government can include STEM activities within their area. The government can have partnerships with private companies to perform these activities.
They could also arrange small or big events with robotics, technological campaigns, kids coding camp, or even build STEM museums and centres. However, as for smaller steps, the government and private companies can provide scholarships for girls to study STEM for various school levels.
Girls’ STEM Education and You
There are many opportunities for women and girls to participate in STEM education, including computing and programming. Especially now, individual institutions and even with the efforts of the Australian government are increasing awareness and opportunities for women and girls to pursue STEM education and careers. The only thing that women and girls need is the support system from family members, especially from parents who are the primary influencer of their education and future careers.
As parents, you can do something for your children, especially your daughters, and prepare them for a future of confidence and achievements.
You can sign them up for kids coding classes to make sure that your daughters can be a part of the increasing number of girls and women in the world of STEM education.
Hopefully, they will belong to a workforce that would pivot and change Australia's economy to thrive more in the coming years ahead.
So, would you count your daughter to girls’ STEM education? Are you moulding your girls’ students to pursue STEM courses?