Careers education is vital for girls' STEM engagement

Careers education is vital for girls

The structure of careers education in Australia needs an overhaul to help more young women embrace science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities, according to a new report.

The study, conducted by Invergowrie Foundation in collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne and Deakin University, analysed the structure of careers education in schools across the country and found many to be “patchy, inconsistent, not valued highly in schools,” and with a high turnover of staff.

“It is clear we need to improve this part of the education system by ensuring career educators are qualified, valued and supported by their schools and the education system,” said Dr Victoria Millar from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, one of the report’s authors.

The study also revealed that a fifth of Australian school students do not receive careers advice, either from an advisor or teacher, resulting in less female students engaging in STEM opportunities.

“At a time when we need to open up pathways for students, this part of the education system is often doing them a disservice,” said Dr Millar. “Gender bias is still very much present and has been identified as influencing career decisions.”

The report has called for policies to ensure careers educators hold relevant qualifications and have access to more support and professional development opportunities.

It also recommended that formal careers education begin earlier than Year 10 and be designed to address the subconscious gender bias that starts early in the child’s education.

“We’ve identified few support structures for early childhood educators to develop or enhance STEM opportunities or engage children’s STEM learning, and this affects girls more than boys,” said Dr Millar.

“Teachers are often unaware of how their own gendered views can affect children’s interests. We need to build on their existing knowledge of the causes of gender differences in student performance and motivation in STEM areas,” she said.

Additionally, the report highlighted to the significance of role models in helping keep girls engaged with STEM throughout their academic journey.

“We know a variety of role models, male and female, young and experienced, even family and friends, are all valuable in helping girls maintain their interest, ability and motivation with STEM subjects,” Dr Millar said.

“Our research found they work best when they are in collaboration with teachers and educators to bring STEM experiences closer to students and make a lasting impact.”