Nadya Fouad (Credit: Alan Magayne-Roshak, UWM)
In recent years great efforts have been made to attract more girls and women to study math and science. In particular the WISE campaign (Women Into Science, Engineering and Constructing) and WiTEC (European Association for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology) have been keen to increase the number of girls and women studying scientific subjects and to help them develop careers in this area. Although these campaigns are both welcome and necessary it is unfortunate that the same attention has not been devoted to understanding the reasons why so few girls are attracted to science and maths in the first place.
One exception to this is a body of research carried out by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) under Professor Nadya Fouad. Significantly, this study indicates that the most important factor for encouraging science and math among young girls is not the initial interest they show in the subjects but the self-confidence that is instilled in them by parents and teachers. Fouad insists that more attention needs to be devoted to boosting confidence among young girls in their scientific abilities and that this needs to be done at an early age.
Certainly, I have vivid memories of an old teacher of mine separating the boys and girls in our class for math, devoting extra time to the boys and assuming that us girls would only require a more general understanding of the subject. Interestingly when we went to High School only one girl from my class went on to study a high level of maths. I myself always assumed that I was weak at maths, but after stumbling upon this study I am beginning to question the assumption and wonder what may have been if only I received extra, or any, encouragement in this area.
The study confirmed that old stereotypes die slowly. Both boys and girls perceived that teachers thought that boys were stronger at math and science. For boys this represented a support, while for girls it acted as a barrier. Ultimately, it’s perception, more than reality, that affects the person’s academic and career choices.‚
Read more at Science Daily.
– Sarah Lynch
Girl Museum Inc.