by Stella Melina Vasilaki
The low uptake of Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) constitutes a research and policy concern worldwide for some time now. The SESTEM project is built on the premise that the study of the uptake of STEM studies by girls and their retention in the field can benefit from investigation into the triangulation of family-individual and school factors. Under this scope SESTEM is currently conducting four interrelated comparative studies engaging students, pupils, parents and teachers (both secondary and tertiary levels). Both qualitative (in depth interviews, conceptual mapping, tandem based dialoguing and review into existing literature) and quantitative (collection and analyses of data from across the European Union Member States using on-line survey methods, and meta-analyses of existing statistical data) methods are applied.
SESTEM, through its studies aims to deepen understanding into the process of decision making in career choices, the process of enhancing school-family collaboration in support of girls' engagement in STEM and into the contextual, cultural and social conditions that support retention of women in STEM related fields of studies especially beyond the level of a Bachelors' degree. The consolidation of studies results will define a set of composite indicators complemented with parental and teacher good practice guidelines for monitoring progress towards achieving equity in STEM.
The results of the qualitative studies conducted so far support the hypothesis that parents and teachers greatly influence the career decisions of youngsters and form the basis of their social environment. The role of the (charismatic) teacher and the family was found more influential than any other factor. Social class, economic status and the profession of parents seem to play a significant role in most cases. It was generally observed that the gender disparities in relation to STEM were wider in lower classes and rural areas, while there were fewer gender differences in higher classes, urban areas and among youngsters whose parents work in STEM fields.
Regarding the perception of STEM in general, STEM related fields are regarded as more prestigious, interesting, up-to-date with global developments and with higher employment prospects and salaries in comparison with other fields. At the same time these fields are also considered more difficult than other fields, time-consuming, competitive and demanding. In this respect, in most cases it was reported that these characteristics may present obstacles for women who are generally viewed as placing the work-life balance in higher priority than men. Stereotypes that influence the social imaginary and promote the view of STEM as masculine and social sciences and the humanities as feminine are still visible.
According to the findings so far, the issue of enhancing the self-confidence of girls, reversing stereotypes, and using successful women in STEM as role models is placed in the center of our considerations for the design of best practices and guidelines. Finally, the need for more information in relation to STEM studies and careers was stressed in most cases.
The final results of the project will be presented upon completion of the project at the end of December 2011. However, no major deviations from the results gathered so far are expected.
The project is supported by the LLP (Project Number: 505437-LLP-1-2009-GR-KA1-KA1SCR) and is implemented in the period January 2010 –December 2011 by a consortium of six partners coordinated by the Institute of Applied and Computational Mathematics - Foundation for Research and Technology, Greece.
Stella Melina Vasilaki, IACM-FORTH
Tel: +30 2810 391584