Last week The Telegraph suggested that we should “give up” on gender equality in school science.
And yesterday it ran another piece saying girls shouldn’t be “forced” into science if they’re not interested.
Both articles draw on a talk given by psychology researcher Dr Gijsbert Stoet at the British Education Studies Association conference in Glasgow.
(Though Stoet says The Telegraph’s headline is misleading. Follow that link and read his views yourself if you’d like to make up your own mind.)
1. More girls than boys rate science as their favourite school subject.
Gender issues are evident from a young age. Girls are less likely than boys to aspire to science careers, even though a higher percentage of girls than boys rate science as their favourite subject.
This was a study by King’s College London. It shows that girls appear to like science in school, but do not necessarily want to go on to pursue it as a career.
3. Girls are more likely to study physics if they go to an all-girl school.
Girls were almost two-and-a-half times more likely to go on to do A-level physics if they came from a girls’ school rather than a co-ed school.
4. Or a school with a sixth form.
Almost twice the percentage of girls progress to physics A-level from maintained co-ed schools that continue to 18, compared with girls from schools that end at 16. The ratio for boys is less.
These stats are from an Institute of Physics report that came out in 2012.
5. Or go to a school with more women in science professions in the local community.
A US study published in Social Science Quarterly found that in many schools, roughly equal numbers of boys and girls take physics classes.
The lead researcher on the study, Dr Catherine Riegel-Crumb, told NPR:
What we found is that in communities that had a higher percentage of women in the labour force who are working in science, technology, engineering, and math, that in those schools, girls were as likely as boys to take physics, or even more likely.
What does this all say about girls’ interest in science?
Girls appear to be just as interested as boys (at least) in chemistry and biology, because they choose to take it at A-level as often as boys do.
On the surface, girls appear to be less interested in physics. But once barriers to girls’ participation in physics are removed, uptake increases.