This week I was honoured to be invited to a roundtable discussion in Sydney on STEM education with the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley MP.
Sitting around a table with VIPs from around the country, there were some interesting discussions about the current state of STEM education in schools, the gaps in our current workforces, with strategies for improving both of these areas put forward from many different perspectives.
I had the opportunity to talk about girls and women in STEM, and what the current challenges are as reported by the research. These are the main points I made:
- Some consider technology careers as "made up, not real" - Baroness Susan Greenfield in her book Mind Change brings together all of the research on how digital technologies are impacting on our brains.
- We lose girls' interest in technology in school between year 4 and year 8. You can find my colleague Dr Kaylene Clayton's work here and her full dissertation here
- There is a lack of visible female technology role models and there is a lack of understanding of what tech people do
- Girls in tech are more likely to come from single sex-schools - paper here
- We find most females in technology related degrees at universities in Australia more likely to be in double degrees and Masters degrees - this suggests to us that they like the application of technology rather than technology for technology's sake.
- Interventions do work and can be a positive strategy for engaging girls.
- This is a complex problem that cannot be easily solved. NCWIT propose a useful model in their Girls in ICT report which shows the influencers on a girls decision making, and that they come from a range of sources such as peers, the media, school/teachers/curriculum, parents, policy etc. Their useful report which draws on contemporary research is here
I'm grateful for the opportunity to share this information with the Prime Minister to hopefully influence some policy change that can change the future of the tech industry by helping us build expertise in our workforce.