Categories : Weekly Blog
All is not well in STEM education. A report by UNESCO finds that gender differences in students’ interest in STEM subjects and participation are “already visible in early childhood care and education (ECCE)”. Predictably, research has discovered that these differences in interest and performance are not due to biological factors (including brain structure and development and hormones). Girls are held back by “discrimination, biases, social norms and expectations that influence the quality of education they receive and the subjects they study.”
Read on for our ideas to improve STEM education in schools:
Social Norms & Solutions
It is by no means easy to change permeating social norms. What students hear from their friends, at home and at school are all significant factors when it comes to their interests and attitudes. Some of the things that teachers can do to change how students view STEM subjects is by building a “science identity” among girls: fostering the idea that science is for everyone, and providing sufficient tools to build these skills.
In fact, using computers is one crucial way to improve engagement. The Unesco report states that “One study showed that more girls than boys perceived computers as useful tools for conducting science investigation, graphing and organizing data.” With sufficient computer skills, both girls and boys can greatly benefit from their use.
Games and STEM
The right kind of games are a great way to teach science, technology, engineering and math. Math in particular relies on repetition and consistent practice, both things that are easy to achieve independently with the right game. What’s more, games allow for individualized experiences and learning moments.
A game such as Universe Sandbox 2 is a great way to learn astronomy. Not only does the game allow students to experiment in ways that wouldn’t be possible in any other medium, but it is also completely removed from any biases or gender-based preconceptions. All that is needed is that the teacher makes sure students know that games are for everyone, especially in the case of educational games.
Nowadays, learning games are available in many forms and platforms, including games that feature biology, chemistry, physics and so on. The biggest challenges with game-based learning tend to be having sufficiently advanced devices, the right games and the skill to play them (though kids tend to get over any deficiency in skills very quickly). The problem isn’t really whether or not it works: games have been linked to high intelligence in research.
There are some potential dangers when fighting against the STEM gender divide. The UNESCO report wisely remarks that “caution is needed when adapting curricula to try to attract girls to STEM subjects, as some researchers argue that changing curricula to reflect typical girls’ and boys’ interests may contribute to reinforcing gender stereotypes and reproducing the gender differences that the changes were intended to overcome.”
Effectively, this means that changes to STEM teaching and the way we think about teaching must be natural, and without calling too much attention to the current status quo. Instead of loudly proclaiming that girls need better STEM education and STEM needs more girls, reinforce and improve current teaching to bring about much-needed change.