From Stereotyping to STEM

Why do girls in co-educational schools not consider STEM subjects in the same numbers as those in single-sex education? After all, these are subjects and careers where employers are crying out for more women.
  • According to research conducted by the Goodman Research Group, graduates of all girls’ schools are six times more likely to consider studying mathematics, science and technology beyond school.
  • A study commissioned by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools in the USA found that pupils from all girls’ schools are three times more likely to consider engineering careers.
  • Back in the UK, the Institute of Physics has shown that girls in GSA independent girls’ schools are thee times more likely than girls nationally to study Physics at A Level.

Why is this? At the top of the list of reasons is no doubt gender stereotyping, which seems to be an unwanted by-product of co-education. It’s perhaps also because in co-ed settings there are things which girls are more reticent about doing. I realise this is a generalisation, but in my experience girls in single sex environments are more willing to take risks, more likely to see the value of failure, and more eager to persevere when things get tough. This may be because they find an all-girls’ environment a safer place in which to explore possibilities and because there is a freedom from some of the social pressures which exist in the co-ed world.

Outside of the school environment there is a huge desire in higher education and in the commercial world for more young women to consider careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). At Truro High School, our Science Department runs a very successful Greenpower Car project, which involves our pupils designing, building, modifying and racing their own cars, which run on 24-volt batteries. We have been inundated with offers of help and support from a whole range of individuals, businesses and other educational institutions who are looking for opportunities to encourage girls to get involved in engineering. Similarly, when we ran an event for girls from a range of local schools focused on women in engineering back in June we were overwhelmed by the support we received from businesses big and small, local and multinational.

It is clear that there is a real desire to try to change things. This is evident in the media on a very regular basis. However, change does appear to be slow in coming. It is unbelievable to think that in a first world country in the 21st century that there is still this gender gap.

At Truro High School we want to ensure that girls receive a good all-round education. This means that they are exposed to the full range of opportunities available to them. They should feel they can be a fashion designer or a mining engineer, a ballet dancer or a rugby player, a baker or an astronomer. Or even all of these at the same time! What’s more, we are conscious of the important role girls’ schools play in breaking these gender stereotypes and therefore the need for us to promote those subjects and careers where women are still under-represented.

At Truro High it is ‘Girls First’.

Published by: Dr Glenn Moodie
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