Girls & STEM: Bridging the gap

We live in a fast-paced world. Technology is advancing at a breakneck speed, leading to the reality that our children will have job opportunities we would have associated with science fiction movies – space rover drivers, professional hackers, computer game designers, virtual world creators – the list is mind-boggling.

It is widely acknowledged that the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are crucial to the next stage in the development of society.

Unfortunately, in Australia we have been slow to catch onto these opportunities. Known as a ‘decay curve’, far from expanding the field in education, we are struggling to attract qualified teachers to STEM subjects, and students are dropping maths in greater numbers every year.

The statistics for girls in STEM are the most dire – with only 14% represented in the field of engineering (compared with 40% in China and 58% in Russia). According to Busting Myths about Women in STEM, a report by the Office of the Chief Scientist, there is a gender imbalance that begins in primary and secondary school and continues into tertiary study and the workplace.

Reasons given for this underrepresentation include a poor sense of belonging and less pay as compared with male counterparts in the industry. Most particularly, ‘in the absence of female role models, girls lack evidence that careers in STEM are for them’. (Check out this infographic for a visual and comprehensive guide).

One of the proposals for fixing the problem is the provision of strong female mentors in classrooms.

At Belgrave Heights Christian School (BHCS), we are greatly encouraged that just over three quarters (76%) of our specialist STEM electives (including Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Psychology) are being taught by highly trained and competent female teachers. What a fantastic foundation for our female students to see themselves represented at a time where they are making decisions for their future career directions.

More broadly, we are investing into the Technology branch of STEM with our dynamic robotics program that allows students to learn coding from their first year of school. Our Digital Citizenship and Robotics subject provides foundational knowledge and allows students to develop their interests in later electives. Our teachers are constantly improving their skills through their participation in the Partnership Project (conducting robotics workshops at other schools).

If you walk past the Maker Space in the Discovery Centre you will notice students creatively using materials to construct and learn. This learning through play is a key part of changing attitudes to STEM – with framed language not as ‘engineering’ but rather ‘making, doing, design thinking and being creative’.

We are keen to continue developing BHCS as a place where students are inspired to become the best versions of themselves, with role models who demonstrate a healthy engagement in the industries of the future.

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