STEM Resources for Educators
The challenges educators face in increasing the participation of girls in STEM vary from stereotypes and gender bias combined with limitations at the school level, such as institutional and financial roadblocks, that prevent the implementation of school wide programs that support STEM education. The barriers faced by women and girls in STEM are widespread, yet sparks of change can start in the classroom.
Barriers that hinder STEM education at school
Unequal opportunities and bias
Girls are often not given the opportunity to participate equally in STEM learning both at home and in the classroom. At home, studies show that parents ask boys questions about numbers and counting 3 times more often than girls. At school, Girls in STEM classrooms are often asked less questions, and given less talking time than boys. This can sometimes be an effect of teachers’ and parents’ biases and unfounded stereotypes about girls’ abilities in STEM.
TV shows and books often portray boy/men and girl/women characters according to gender stereotypes. Think about how many TV shows you watch that have men characters problem solving, building or fixing things and women characters in caring roles, doing chores or artistic activities. Children are more likely to repeat the stereotypical examples they see, and this includes examples at home and at school, where stereotypes are often reinforced. Within this framework, other gender identities are often ignored.
Girls in STEM statistics
A 2016 research report revealed that Australia has the lowest adoption rate of girls in STEM-related subjects. Australia reported 27% of girls studying STEM subjects compared to China with 76% participation rate of girls in STEM and India at 69%.
Girls as young as 6 can be deterred from STEM education. Young girls may believe that they aren’t ‘good’ at STEM or that STEM isn’t for them. This perception significantly impacts subject selection as girls progress through the school years. The attrition rate of young women and girls in STEM related subjects significantly increases in the senior years.
STEM Equity Monitor: gender perceptions by subject
The 2020-21 STEM Influencer — Teacher and Career Advisers surveyed 800 educators inquiring into student levels of confidence in relation to STEM. Educators reported boys to be more confident than girls in STEM related subject areas with girl’s showing higher levels of interest and confidence in humanities related subjects.
Boys show higher levels of confidence in the following subject areas:
- engineering – 61% believed boys are more confident, 2% believed girls are more confident
- sport – 53% believed boys are more confident, 1% believed girls are more confident
- technology – 40% believed boys are more confident, 3% believed girls are more confident
- mathematics – 33% believed boys are more confident, 7% believed girls are more confident
- science – 29% believed boys are more confident, 5% believed girls are more confident :
Conversely, educators reported girls to be more confident in:
- social science – 39% believed girls are more confident, 4% believed boys are more confident
- arts – 58% believed girls are more confident, 1% believed boys are more confident
- English – 61% believed girls are more confident, 1% believed boys are more confident
Girls confidence levels significantly influence their participation in STEM subjects at school and perceptions of STEM careers.
How can educators improve the participation of girls in STEM education?
Educators have a significant opportunity in the classroom to encourage and inspire STEM education for young girls. Incorporating inclusive classroom material, activities and resources that encourage and promote the participation of girls in STEM are just some of the ways educators can create change in the classroom. Educators can also encourage the adoption of inclusive school wide STEM Education programs. Creating learning environments that encourage girls in STEM studies and careers is the first step towards creating widespread change!
6 classroom tips to encourage girls in STEM
1) Encourage the development of Girls STEM identity
Studies suggest that when girls don’t develop a STEM identity from an early age, they drop out of STEM subjects because of a lack of identification with STEM subjects and careers. Girls cannot see themselves having a future in STEM – or as a girl in STEM. Some STEM programs in schools such as ‘Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld’ help children develop STEM identities through play.
2) Incorporate diverse role models
The role models represented in the classroom influence how young people identify themselves and influence what they think they can and cannot do. There are many women who have led the way in STEM. Resources like interviews of women in Australia in the Girls in STEM Toolkit showcases the stories of women who are doing great things in STEM.
3) Flip the gender stereotype
When students ask science questions, position women role models as the ‘experts’ answering kids’ questions or helping children find out the answer. In children’s books and media, it is common to find male characters who are brave, curious and risk-taking (e.g. explorer, scientist) and female characters in caring or submissive roles (e.g. doing domestic jobs or princesses needing to be rescued). You can challenge or flip these gender stereotypes and try to find examples of characters who challenge the stereotype. Swap the male and female characters or their actions in the story you’re reading.
4) Steer clear of resources and materials that reinforce gender stereotypes
Avoid resources and materials that may endorse gender stereotypes that represent either girls or boys in predetermined roles. If such representation is present in school material, use this as an opportunity to apply critical thinking and give students the tools to challenge and question the stereotypes depicted.
5) Identify connections between learning areas and STEM Education and careers
Identify clear connections between learning material and the opportunities offered by STEM Careers for both genders. Interactive websites such as FUTURE YOU and the Girls in STEM Toolkit clearly show the connections between subject areas and STEM careers with equal representation across the genders.
6) Reduce bias and stereotypes in activities and play
Being aware of our language and actions when doing activities with students can help us avoid reinforcing stereotypes and reduce the effect of our biases. Role model behaviour and actions that challenge stereotypes, e.g. women exploring, building and fixing, and men helping, cooking and dancing.
For more resources on STEM education and tips on creating inclusive learning environments that encourage girls in STEM, head to the Girls in STEM Toolkit.
Help children see a future for themselves in STEM
Future You encourages children to dream big about the possibilities in STEM. Watch the campaign video below and visit the Future You website to find out more about the 12 diverse and relatable characters in STEM.
The Girls in STEM Toolkit. (2020). Classroom strategies for inclusive STEM learning environments.
Women in STEM Decadal Plan . (2019). Australian Academy of Science
Not girly, not sexy, not glamorous’: primary school girls’ and parents’ constructions of science aspirations. Archer, L, DeWitt J, Osborne et al. ‘Pedagogy, Culture & Society (2013), 21
STEM Equity Monitor, 2021-20, Department of Industry