Gender divide in classrooms - STEM

January 19

As Head of Juniors at St Mary's School, Cambridge and as a father of three girls, I was both interested, and equally horrified, to see the recent YouGov survey results. The survey revealed which subjects were enjoyed by 4,000 children – boys and girls – aged 6 to 15.

As you can probably guess, the stats highlighted a higher percentage of girls favouring creative subjects. 62% of girls said they enjoy Art a lot, compared to 34% of the boys. Similarly, subjects such as English came out a firmer favourite for girls (42% enjoy the subject vs 25% of boys), and languages (28% vs 18%). In direct contrast, the survey found that boys are much more likely to enjoy computing (64% vs 46% of girls), mathematics (42% vs 32%) and science (48% vs 39%).

It is hugely publicised that Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers are male dominated. Just 13% of the UK STEM workforce is female.

Whilst it was cause for celebration that Donna Strickland recently became the first woman Physics Nobel prize winner in 55 years, equally it is cause for concern that so few women reach these heights, and this has worrying implications regarding inspiring future generations of female scientists and engineers.

So where are we going wrong as a society? I feel strongly that we must look beyond the classroom to some deep-rooted societal issues. Look down the aisle in your local toy shop and there is usually a clear distinction as to what should interest boys vs girls. Make up sets, plastic dolls and craft kits all sit firmly in the area for girls – which is usually a strong shade of pink. Whereas the boys have the construction sets, the science kits and the plastic dinosaurs. This ensures that even the youngest child is given strong signals to show them which area should appeal to their gender, which can have detrimental consequences. Children can feel as though they cannot do something because it is labelled as just for girls or just for boys.

Matthew O’Reilly
Head of Juniors
St Mary’s School, Cambridge


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