Gender Equality in STEM Education

Improving STEM education has been a hallmark of the Obama Administration’s effort to keep American industry at the forefront of the technology sector in the 21st century, and as part of his “Educate to Innovate” initiative the President plans to devote $2.3 million for the “Women’s Educational Equity Program.” Recognizing the gaps in career prospects and achievement for women in the sciences, the program aims to help women match the gains achieved elsewhere in the professional world in fields of engineering and technology, where the workforce was over 75% male in 2009.

A recent report by the Harvard Family Research Project addressed this issue and suggested that an effective strategy for encouraging girls’ interest in STEM ought to focus on Out of School Time (OST) programs that offer a “non-threatening, non-academic environment for hands-on learning.”  The Canadian Association for Girls in Science gives students ages seven to sixteen just such a chance to meet successful female engineers, tour factories, and talk with mentors.  Curry Jahnke, one of the Association’s coordinators, touted the program’s ability to “destroy gender-based stereotypes,” and “increase the likelihood they may pursue this type of education as a future career.”

Many initiatives encouraging girls to further their STEM education focus on K-12 education, while admitting that the wide gender disparity in engineering jobs will not change overnight.  Advocates such as Shelley Correll, a sociology professor at Stanford, however, remain optimistic that undermining stereotypes and expanding opportunities can be successful in increasing the representation of women in STEM fields over the long-term.

Posted by: John Coit

Sources: Harvard Family Research Project, Insidehalton.com, Physorg.com, U.S. Department of Education,  The Washington Post

Photo Credit: P7100019 courtesy of flickr user scholz

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