In recent years U.S. high school students have become increasingly interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields. This means good things for the United States because these fields are responsible for moving our society forward and ensuring our industrial development. But although various studies have shown that our children’s interest in STEM is on the rise, the gender gap is still widening.
Boys and girls tend to begin kindergarten on the same page and remain this way throughout elementary school. It isn’t until 6th or 7th grade when girls begin to shy away from accelerated math and science courses. The gender gap continues to widen in high school. Even worse, the girls who stayed interested in STEM courses drift away from those majors in college.
So what’s really going on here? Some suggest that avoiding math and science has less to do with an inability to understand its content and more to do with a lack of confidence. It isn’t that girls can’t excel in STEM classes; they believe they can’t and therefore they don’t try. Self-esteem in girls often reaches its peak around 9 years old and then decreases dramatically after that. With that being said, we can see a clear connection between girls’ lack of participation in STEM and their plummeting self-confidence.
Many young girls think that liking math and science is “uncool”. As alarming as this is, it’s not unbelievable when we consider that they are the target audience for tween clothing brands that market shirts which read, “I’m too pretty to do math” and “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother does it for me.” Young girls are not only getting the message that STEM isn’t for them, they’re wearing it.
As parents and educators we need to do more for girls than simply spark their interest in math and science during early childhood. We have to continuously nurture it throughout adolescence by addressing confidence issues and offering encouragement. We must actively combat these gender stereotypes if we want to achieve gender equity in education. Fortunately there are many ways you, as a parent, can help bridge this gap:
- Discuss math and science with her in a positive way. Focus on what she likes about these subjects and help her set goals for herself in connection with possible career paths.
- Take her to visit science centers such as Cosi, planetariums, and natural history museums. This will help her gain an understanding of how STEM is used outside of the classroom.
- When she’s young use her allowance as an opportunity to teach her about budgeting expenses. When she gets older show her how you budget your household expenses and allow her to be responsible for her own personal spending.
- Encourage her to enroll in math clubs, science fairs, and/or computer classes afterschool.
- Encourage her interest in famous female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. Even the women who have made waves in these fields tend to be overshadowed by their male counterparts. These women didn’t work hard to be forgotten and it’s important for girls to have strong female role models to look up to.
When we education our children we assure our society’s survival because as they grow they will become the ones who are responsible for moving our community forward. Women must be part of this movement and we cannot allow our daughters to be held down by outdated stereotypes. Together we can make a positive difference in our education system by nurturing a love for STEM one girl at a time.