Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Gender Divide in Science Education

By Joanna Sikora

While girls now match boys in their interest and ability in science, there remains a stark disparity in the subjects they select and the careers they pursue.

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A recent report penned by analysts from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has gauged how high school students fare in 63 countries. The ABC of Gender Inequality in Education highlights areas in which girls do as well as boys and areas that are persistently divided by gender. The key message about science education is that while certain disparities have been bridged, others remain as gaping as ever.

Up to the 1990s adolescent girls underperformed in school science relative to boys. Analysts saw this gap as the key reason why girls showed comparatively little interest in science careers.

However, the 21st century witnessed a reversal in girls’ performance trends. In 2012, an OECD assessment of science competencies across the world revealed that 15-year-old girls were as good at science as their male peers. My research on the data, which was included in the OECD report, demonstrates that Australian youth of both genders take an equal interest in science careers, as do youth in many other countries.

Boys and girls, however, develop vocational interests in very different areas of science. Consequently, they flock into different subjects in high school. Career preferences and subject choices affect tertiary study which, in turn, determines employment. The OECD reports that only 14% of females at university in member countries pursue...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.