Report calls for overhaul of careers education to help young women embrace STEM opportunities

Report authors say gender bias is still very present and has been identified as influencing career decisions. Image: Melbourne Graduate School of Education

One in five Australian school students don’t receive careers advice from an advisor or teacher - exacerbating why young women aren’t engaging with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) opportunities, a new report has found.

The finding comes in The Invergowrie Foundation’s Girls’ Future – Our Future: STEM Report, 2020 Update, compiled with research from the University of Melbourne and Deakin University.

“It is clear we need to improve this part of the education system by ensuring career educators are qualified, valued and supported by their schools and the education system,” said report author Dr Victoria Millar from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

“At a time when we need to open up pathways for students, this part of the education system is often doing them a disservice. Gender bias is still very much present and has been identified as influencing career decisions.”

The report analysed the structure of careers education in Australian schools and found many to be patchy, inconsistent, not valued highly in schools, with a high turnover of staff.

It calls for policies that ensure careers educators hold relevant qualifications, have access to more support and professional development opportunities. The report also recommends that formal careers education should begin much younger than Year 10 and urges more work be done to address subconscious gender bias at the beginning of a child’s education.

“We’ve identified few support structures for early childhood educators to develop or enhance STEM opportunities or engage children’s STEM learning, and this affects girls more than boys,” said Dr Millar.

“Teachers are often unaware of how their own gendered views can affect children’s interests. We need to build on their existing knowledge of the causes of gender differences in student performance and motivation in STEM areas.”

The report reiterated the importance of role models in keeping girls engaged with STEM throughout their academic journey.

“We know a variety of role models, male and female, young and experienced, even family and friends, are all valuable in helping girls maintain their interest, ability and motivation with STEM subjects,” Dr Millar said.

“Our research found they work best when they are in collaboration with teachers and educators to bring STEM experiences closer to students and make a lasting impact.”

The University of Melbourne has a podcast series on STEM which you can access here.

Below is Episode 5: How to support your STEM student