The Hard Facts: A case study of girls and STEM

Year: 2017

Author: Geer, Ruth, O'Keefe, Lisa, Panizzon, Debra, Paige, Kathy, Zeegers, Yvonne, Albrecht, Annie, Brown, Leni

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

International research (Becker & Park, 2011) suggests approximately 75% of the fastest growing occupations worldwide will require significant skills in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Although the number of females undertaking tertiary science and mathematics courses have grown, there are still serious concerns about the lack of women pursuing careers in particular STEM-related fields. While there has been substantial changes in the uptake of STEM-related subjects, few Australian studies have addressed the career challenges facing girls from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds (Hackling, 2014).
In this study we explore the potential factors impacting on female students' uptake and success in the Sciences (biology, physics and chemistry) and Mathematics in a school located in a low SES area. Adopting a case study approach, this paper analyses school data for Year 12 female students from a 'super' school in the Northern suburbs of Adelaide. This school comprises both a single sex and a co-educational campus with data being drawn from Year 12 female students across the two campuses. Data relating to school attendance, subject choice and school results were gathered and analysed, with significant differences between student groups detected using either the Mann-Whitney U test or the Kruskal-Wallis test, as appropriate.
The 2016 data indicates that there are 119 Year 12 female students, of which 41% attend the co-educational campus. The findings suggest that 73 (61%) opted to take some science and mathematics subjects; 22 of the females at the co-educational campus and 51 at the all-girls campus. The most commonly selected science and mathematics subjects were Biology (n=57) and Mathematics Applications (n=36), respectively. The analysis of the data from this sample of students (n=73) indicated that school absence is potentially a critical factor, with STEM courses having typically lower, and less variable, absence rates in comparison to non-STEM courses (p