In Australia today, female students are participating in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at significantly lower rates than males.
According to data from the Office of the Chief Scientist, just 16% of qualified STEM population are women, who take up just 27% of the total STEM workforce across all sectors.
Thursday was the United Nations International Day for Women and Girls in Science, a day that has been used to spark renewed discussion about how schools and communities can encourage young women to consider a career in STEM education.
One recurrent obstacle to this is the stereotype that the STEM industry is more suitable to males than females. The belief that the industry is not for them discourages young women from taking up a career in this field and serves to further perpetuate the problem.
However, Dr Rebecca Marrone from the University of South Australia (UniSA) says these negative STEM attitudes can be addressed through creativity.
Dr Marrone has a PhD in STEM from UniSA where she investigated the role of creativity in encouraging female students to study Mathematics. She says research shows that females mimic the behaviours of their role models, such as teachers, that are the same gender as them.
“We know that 82% of primary school teachers in the West are female, and we also know that of anyone studying any degree, pre-service educators dislike mathematics the most,” she told The Educator.
“Once these teachers enter the classroom, they unintentionally project their negative STEM attitudes onto their students, particularly the females”.
Dr Marrone said school leaders can help their teachers overcome these negative STEM attitudes and bridge the STEM gender gap by encouraging creativity in teaching practices.
“Creativity is defined beyond the ‘arts’ and refers to solving problems in a ‘novel and useful manner’,” she said.
“When creative teaching practices are encouraged by school leaders, both teacher and student can overcome their negative STEM attitudes and can thrive in these subjects”.