Robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced materials and biotechnology will impact business models from 2018 and employment in engineering, architecture, IT and maths is on the rise. Currently women are significantly underrepresented in these jobs.
Schools have a major role in promoting female participation in the STEM workforce. The challenge for schools and educators is to help female students understand this new environment and evolve the skills and resilience to operate in the future STEM landscape.
So how can we support female students to pursue STEM careers?
A major challenge for schools exists around resourcing and updating teacher knowledge. The Victorian Department of Education established six specialist science and mathematics centres to help schools inspire students in STEM through student programs and teacher professional learning.
These specialist centres collaborate with research institutes and industry to showcase Victorian innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits in STEM. Providing access to research-grade technologies and expertise immerses teachers and students in contemporary science investigations. It helps girls visualise new STEM pathways and ignites their interest in pursuing studies in science.
“Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom.”
What motivates a female student to engage with STEM? At the very core our answer should include interest and relevance. Relevance showcases how skills and knowledge apply to the world around us. Interest is maintained when students understand and can actively use new skills and knowledge to analyse results, solve problems and discuss issues.
A student will quickly disengage if they do not experience success. A series of sequenced challenges designed to activate thinking and the linking of ideas to create new knowledge supports students to take risks and develop and test theories.
Promote dialogue and skills of negotiation
Girls enjoy learning as a social and collaborative exercise. In this way they can hold meaningful discourse as they interrogate ideas. Providing learning spaces that promote social interaction around artefacts provides a non-threatening method of testing ideas and refining knowledge.
Industries want to increase female participation in the workforce as this promotes diversity and has been shown to improve outcomes. Cited barriers to hiring and promoting women include unconscious bias in managers and women’s low confidence and aspirations.
We all harbour learned stereotypes that are encultured in us and affect decisions. Meeting and collaborating with early and established female career scientists has a positive impact on women’s aspirations. It helps to break down misconceptions surrounding the role of scientists by highlighting the convergence of STEM where collaboration – rather than competition – is key.
Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom. By partnering with schools to develop meaningful and relevant learning experiences for students, enriched by access to facilities, resources, technologies and expertise, students realise how exciting and diverse a career in STEM can be.
By communicating the need for gender diversity and nurturing STEM skills that will be most valued in the workforce, we can help raise female aspirations as they reflect on subject choice in their senior years.
Director, Gene Technology Access Centre
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