‘Gender Imbalance’ in Science Classrooms in the UK: An Investigation into the Causes and Solutions
This paper builds upon a recent UK study commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of its Science in Society Strategy, jointly with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). The prime purpose of the study was to gain a better understanding of successful interventions and practices used by schools and colleges to reduce drop-out rates in science, technology, and mathematics subjects. This paper focuses on the ‘gender imbalance’ in the science class rooms in the UK.
Science, technology and mathematics subjects are identified as being ‘critical’ to the future industrial competitiveness of the UK (Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014) and are of their strategic importance to the nation because of the increased competition from rapidly advancing economies around the world. However, over the last decade, the UK has experienced a marked decrease in the number of A-Level students taking mathematics, chemistry and, in particular, physics. In particular, there is a pronounced gender gap in the number of females taking science subjects at A-Level and more so in physics and mathematics. The gender imbalances in STEM subjects become even more pronounced post-secondary education where young girls and women progressively depart from what has become known as the ‘STEM leaky pipeline’ (Wynarczyk, 2007).
Several reports and studies have attempted to identify the reasons why girls harbour significantly more negative connotations about certain science subjects and careers (Grant, 1995), the societal applications of STEM (Hornig, 1992; Napolitano and Ogunseitan, 1999) and what influence the views and attitudes of boys and girls about science from an early age (Osborne and Collins, 2000).
This paper focuses on the causes of gender imbalance in science classrooms in the UK, provides an overview of specific initiatives and interventions, and make policy recommendations to remedy the current situation.
Keywords: Gender Imbalance, STEM Pipeline, Science Classrooms, Science Initiatives
Prof. Pooran Wynarczyk
Director, Small Enterprise Research Unit, Newcastle University Business School