Gender stereotypes in STEM education resources

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On the 12th of May 2017 we have given a Scientix Webinar on our research study about gender stereotypes in STEM education resources. Here you can read the summary of the study and you can find the link to the published article at the bottom of the blog.

Gender stereotypes in STEM and education

There are more men studying and working in science fields than women. This could be an effect of the prevalence of gender stereotypes (‘science is for men’ or ‘women can’t do science’). Aside from in the media and people’s social lives, such stereotypes can also occur in education.

Ways in which stereotypes are visible in education include the use of gender-biased:

  • Visuals (where scientist are depicted as men, not women)
  • Language (using words such as ‘mankind’ or ‘man-made’ instead of neutral words such as ‘humanity’ and ‘artificial’)
  • Teaching methods and teachers’ attitudes (e.g., where most questions about science subjects are asked to boys, and not girls).

Primary school STEM education resources

The goal of our study was to determine whether STEM education resources for primary school children contained gender-biased visuals and text. We chose to study primary school resources because from the literature it is known that children’s stereotype consciousness increases rapidly between the ages of 6 and 10 – thus, in primary school. Therefore, the status of gender stereotypes in STEM education resources for primary school is very important to study.

Studying the visuals and texts

In the STEM education resources, the total number of men and women depicted, and the profession and activity of each person in the visuals were noted. For boys and girls, only the activity was noted. For the text analysis, we compared the texts of the STEM resources to a list with gender-biased and gender-neutral words.

Gender-stereotyped scientists and teachers

The analysis showed that there were more men than women depicted with a science profession and that more women than men were depicted as teachers. And, not surprisingly, there were more women than men depicted doing the activity ‘teaching’ as well. There was no significant difference in the type of activity between boys and girls.

The text analysis showed only 72 words (0.3%) that were gender-biased.

Differences between depicted adults and children

This study showed that there is a stereotypical representation of men and women in online STEM education resources, because scientists were mainly depicted as men, and teachers mainly as women. Boys and girls were not depicted in a gender-stereotyped manner, which is very good news. However, depicted adults may serve as role models more than depicted boys or girls, and importantly, should therefore be depicted in a non-stereotyped way.

These results highlight the changes needed to create a balanced representation of men and women in STEM education resources for primary school children. Even if the stereotypical representation of men and women in science is a true reflection of the gender distribution in science, we should aim for a more balanced representation. Such a balance is an essential first step towards showing children that both men and women can do science, which will contribute to more gender-balanced science and technology fields.

Recommendations to counteract gender stereotypes in STEM education:

  • The numbers of men and women in the visual content and texts should be balanced.
  • The type of professions and activities that the men and women are depicted with, should be balanced.
  • The language should be gender balanced (using words like humanity or people instead of man).
  • Teachers can put more effort in explaining different kinds of science careers. Showing examples also of women in science.
  • Female scientists can be invited into the classroom to serve as role models.

Click here to read the published article about this study (this study does not include the text analysis).

Article written by: Anne Kerkhoven, University of Leiden 

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