It’s no secret that there is a dearth of females in the fields of math and science. According to Monster.com, “Women only account for 13 percent of engineering and 25 percent of computer and math roles.” But if girls are to enter these fast-growing careers they must take the necessary classes in school. Many girls might already be interested in math and science, but eventually lose interest due to lack of encouragement.
Take a look at the reasons listed below that may be behind the lack of female representation in these fields, and the four ways educators can keep girls interested in math and science.
Why So Few Girls in Math and Science Fields?
Take a glimpse around university math and science departments and you will likely find far fewer women than men. Male scientists outnumber females two to one, even in fictitious situations like the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, “Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.”
Girls are interested in math and science when they’re young, but they’re often diverted before high school and eventually declare their college major in another field. An American Association of University Women study of 1,226 female science professionals found that girls actually demonstrate interest in science at a young age, but are discouraged due to antagonistic, critical behavior in many math and science departments. Nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated experiencing such behavior.
Is It a Motivation Problem?
Maybe the problem isn’t gender-based but in the way children’s skills are fostered. Math Professor Mary Beth Ruskai argues that both boys and girls need more interactions with scientists to become interested in science. Schools should also identify and encourage students’ talents, regardless of academic field. Educational reform efforts often yield increased retention rates for both males and females, simultaneously combating two problems.
Here are a few ways teachers and parents can keep that spark of interest in science going for young girls and encourage more women scientist in the future:
1. Create Projects Based on Interest
Instead of letting girls’ math and science interests lie dormant or go ignored, we should present them with science projects based on their interest. Sometimes, all it takes is one successful project to give a girl the encouragement she needs to find her passion in math or science. Even some toys for young children can aid in kindling an interest in science.
2. Introduce Female Math and Science Role Models
The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that women hold only 24 percent of STEM occupations, and those with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degree typically work in education or healthcare. While the numbers seem bleak, it presents an opportunity for change. Females working in or holding degrees in math or science should serve as role models for girls seeking a career in their field. Introducing a positive role model of the same gender to young girls can keep them interested and have a lifelong impact on their career paths.
3. Emphasize the Positives
Parents and educators should encourage girls to defy the stereotypes that math and science are only for boys. Like any subject, if girls are struggling in math and science, teachers should help them work through their struggles. This can mean playing an active role in helping them better understand these subjects. Just because a female student finds the subjects difficult is not a reason to move away from the field entirely. Working through challenges is part of the learning experience. Confidence plays a large role in a girl’s success in science and math, and it’s important to help her maintain a high level of confidence.
4. Explore Career Options Early
Often, kids in elementary and high school are unaware of the myriad career options that will be available to them as adults. Many of these careers will require a broader background in subjects they may not have considered or cultivated an interest in. But if they are able to explore career interests early, they can better prepare for them by taking classes they might have avoided otherwise. A student may want to be a doctor or a veterinarian, for example, but not be aware of the important role that science will take for such careers. And some job fields, such as computer coding and programming, encourage students to begin training in high school and even elementary school to be truly competitive. If career education courses are not offered in your child’s school, consider an alternative school choice such as an online career academy. Destinations Career Academies and Programs combine traditional high school academics with career education.
Science and math are not gender-specific fields, yet girls seem to tune out natural tendencies toward these subjects. We can change their attitudes toward math and science by offering them encouragement, role models, and opportunities to learn, tapping into their innate scientific and math skills.