Girls and the STEM Confidence Gap

14 Oct 2019

Australian Governments have continued to promote the need for STEM education as Australia's performance in Maths and Science has fallen. The challenge for schools is to ensure that students see the value of these subjects and through strong teaching and learning activities develop and retain both passion and higher order skill development. The focus on STEM in schools has been successful in the last five years, evidenced in our own environment by the increased numbers of students taking STEM related subjects, the wider curriculum options available and our P-12 STEM continuum.

However, nationwide there is continued evidence to suggest a massive skills gap is looming in the engineering and IT professions and studies show that only 16% of engineering students are female. The article points out that young women want to change the world and create a fairer society - however they do not see engineering as a path to achieving this.

The article states;

"Mechanical and mechatronics engineers build the robots that can improve the lives of people needing assistive care, such as the elderly and those with special needs. Civil engineers design housing and infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events. Environmental engineers study conditions such as air pollution, identify who is most exposed, and find sustainable solutions. A chemical engineer may use nanotechnology for advances in clean energy and healthcare."

The confidence gap that begins opening by Year 4 where girls are less likely to state they are confident about Maths even though they have the same ability level as boys, is one factor that continues to play out as students get older and ultimately choose a profession. Educators, parents and society alike need to challenge these views and use the language of success with girls - encouraging and pushing girls to take courses to their highest levels. 

As the article states, "the time for just talking about the gender barriers in engineering and IT is past. What we need now are meaningful, disruptive solutions for collaborative, nationwide action. Our nation’s future is riding on it."