There is an ongoing debate about the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and how to get more girls interested in them. Many campaigns and programmes encourage girls to study STEM subjects in school and consider them as careers. However, despite all this effort, in Europe less than 7% of all tech positions are filled by women. Ten years ago 47% of entrants into maths, science and computing university courses were women. In 2013, that number had fallen to 40%. Clearly something is being done wrong.
I see a problem with some of these campaigns that would certainly deter me (and as a teenage girl I am in the target audience). However, I can’t see it not having an influence on boys as well. When small children are asked what they want to be, ‘a scientist’ is an ambitious but vague answer. If one studies Science in school, but it is not applied to the everyday world, it is difficult to envisage a career in it. There is no such thing as ‘a scientist’. There are chemists, ecologists, forensic scientists, geologists, physicists, astronomers and more. I think that if Science teachers taught their students where and how theories and formulas fitted into everyday life, science would become clearer for many students. Perhaps if science was broken down into careers and students knew what each one might involve, studying science at third level would become more appealing. Although this problem cannot only apply to girls, perhaps teachers and parents of boys take the time to inform them about the options that STEM offers, but do not think it relevant to girls.
‘I Wish’ is a Cork initiative that aims to provide girls with more information about careers that are possible after studying STEM subjects. According to Gillian Keating, President of the Cork Chamber of Commerce, ‘We have to show them what being an engineer, for example, means. I think the key problem is that girls simply do not know what the job options are’. If this is so, then campaigns must focus on making the range and variety of careers obvious to girls, particularly if their parents are also not informed about them.
On the other hand, while girls are being encouraged into STEM subjects, should not boys be educated about traditionally ‘female’ subjects like Art and Home Economics? I compared two secondary schools, one for girls and one for boys to see what subjects were available. The curricula are the same except for the following differences. In the boys’ school Applied Maths, German, Design and Communications Graphics, Materials Technology, Construction Studies, Computer Studies and Classical Studies were offered. In the girls’ schools Japanese and Home Economics were offered. The boys’ school places a greater emphasis on subjects involving construction that could possibly lead onto a career in engineering.
So, I think it is equally important that boys take up careers traditionally seen as being for girls as that girls do the opposite. This equality lark works both ways and it is very easy to forget that. This is a very complicated debate and no one seems to know all the different solutions to the problem.
What are your views? Do you think that STEM initiatives are targeting girls in the right way at the moment? Do you think it is just as important for boys to be encouraged to seek different career options? Please let me know what you think.