It’s a well-documented fact that fields like physics, computer science and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers have a disproportionately low percentage of women, especially at the highest levels.
There are also, it seems, thousands of theories about the cause behind this inequality, ranging from sexual harassment in the workplace to lack of role models to biased reactions to women with assertive personalities. While all of these hypotheses have merit, now there’s another explanation: lack of confidence.
A recent study of gender equality in schools conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that high-school-age girls “lack self-confidence” about their ability to solve math and science problems. This leads them to achieve worse results than they normally would, despite the fact that girls overall perform better than boys in school.
“Gender disparities in performance do not stem from innate differences in aptitude,” concluded the report, which was based on the OECD’s international tests and surveys, including the influential internationally-administered PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) evaluation.
Surprisingly, the study found some of the biggest differences in performance in the world’s “developed” countries. In the UK, for example, 15-year-old girls achieved 13 percent lower results than boys of the same age, placing the country in the bottom five for equality in sciences, out of the 64 countries include in the report.
If the fault for girls’ underperformance in sciences and math lies with a lack of belief in their own abilities, rather than any difference in those abilities, then their performance could be improved simply by changing the atittudes of both students and their parents. In particular, the report suggests that parents do more to encourage girls to consider pursuing careers in STEM fields.
Currently, fewer than one out of every 20 teenage girls around the world considers working in science, technology or engineering – compared to one out of every five boys. This is despite the fact that both genders achieve similar results on the science section of the PISA tests.
The implications of girls opting out of sciences and other fields has long-term implications both for individuals and the industry as a whole, according to experts.
During the presentation of the report’s findings, Andreas Schleider, the OECD’s head of education and skills, argued that the global pay gap, which sees women earning less than their male counterparts in essentially every country around the world, was primarily a result of decisions that girls made early in school.
“If you don’t have the right attitude to those subjects it’s very very hard to catch up later in life. And that makes a big difference where you end up later,” Schleider said.
“You can’t become an engineer or a scientist at age 40 if you don’t do well at maths in school, if you don’t do well in science in school,” he added.
Other studies have suggested that teachers may unintentionally discourage girls from continuing to pursue math and science later in life, highlighting the need for both parents and teachers to make a greater effort to make it clear that careers in the sciences are open for girls.
It is crucial for both girls, and boys, to receive a supportive and receptive education in science and other STEM fields, so receiving a high quality education from an experienced and forward thinking institution is more important than ever.
Read on for more information on institutions that are encouraging students into STEM education and who offer world-class science tuition:
FACULTY OF ENGINEERING, HEALTH, SCIENCE AND THE ENVIRONMENT, CHARLES DARWIN UNIVERSITY – AUSTRALIA
Charles Darwin University (CDU) is a dynamic and youthful university, located in the most northerly region of Australia, one of the oldest and most biologically diverse landscapes on the planet. With a student population of 22,000, including 1,500 international students, CDU has campuses throughout the Northern Territory of Australia, combining friendly neighbourhoods with vibrant multicultural city experiences. CDU is a research intensive university, ranked in the top 2% of the world’s universities and in the top 100 universities in the world under 50 years old (Times Higher Education 2014). Students are thoroughly encouraged to be involved in CDU’s world-class research, with honours courses within the Faculty of Engineering, Health, Science and the Environment providing students with opportunities to carry out in-depth research into a topic of their choice. Read the full profile.
DIVISION OF TROPICAL ENVIRONMENTS AND SOCIETIES, JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY – AUSTRALIA
Globally recognised for the quality of its teaching and research programs, Australia’s James Cook University (JCU) offers students the opportunity to study, undertake research and gain qualifications in a stunning, unique location. JCU is ranked among the top 4% of universities in the world in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2014 and is renowned for producing students with a special understanding of the tropics. The institution has the unrivalled natural advantage of being located close to the wet tropic rainforests, the dry savannahs and the ocean simultaneously, which enables students to work within remarkably varied environments.
FACULTY OF SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE – AUSTRALIA
Internationally renowned for academic research in fields including biomedical sciences, agriculture, environmental studies and earth sciences, the University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Sciences is a leader in emerging fields such as photonics and is dedicated to equipping its graduates with the expertise they require to have positive impact within society. Adelaide bases its scientific curriculum around ‘10 Big Questions’ which relate to climate change, biodiversity loss, feeding the world and food security. This places students’ work in a universally comprehensible context and positions it as a pathway into a diverse range of careers.
SCHOOL OF SCIENCE, ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY, CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE UNIVERSITY – USA
A globally acclaimed comprehensive public university in New Britain, Connecticut, Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) is committed to achieving excellence in liberal arts and sciences across its five schools. Both undergraduate and postgraduate-level education at CCSU balances academic challenges and personal support, encouraging students to become proactive, thoughtful and responsible citizens. The University’s School of Science, Engineering and Technology comprises ten departments which offer 100 majors in more than 80 disciplines, including Biology, Bimolecular Sciences, Engineering Education and Computer Electronics.
FACULTY OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF LEEDS – UK
With an outstanding global academic reputation, Leeds University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences (FoBS) has recently been swept into the public eye after faculty members’ research revealed their invaluable findings into gene mutations linked to autism traits. Trailblazing discoveries of this kind are not uncommon in the vibrant research environs of FoBS, who were recently placed fourth in the UK for biological sciences by the leading scientific journal ‘Nature‘.