There is a science to helping students become successful in the classroom. Not to be cliché, but some research suggests there is evidence that there are differences between how to help girls learn and achieve versus how to help boys.
For years, women lagged behind men in educational attainment. In 1960, more boys went to college and census data suggested that twice as many males as females received bachelor’s degrees in 1960. Two decades later, by the mid-1980s, female students’ educational attainments had not only caught up but started to outpace the accomplishments of male students. Building on those success trends started almost 40 years ago, today female students are in fact performing far better than boys and according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 57% of college students are female and women earn about one-third more bachelor’s degrees than men. After decades of concern about females being shortchanged, now there is some evidence to suggest exactly the opposite; perhaps it is really young men who are in peril.
Digging a little deeper to understand what is going on in STEM studies specifically, we will find that even though females are capable, their abilities in math and science classes do not predict whether they will go into related careers. Lisa Wade, associate professor and chairwoman of the sociology department at Occidental College in Los Angeles who frequently writes on this topic says, “many high-performing girls choose not to (go into STEM careers), and many lower-performing boys do. This is partly because women are pushed out of such careers because they are so strongly associated with men and masculinity or because they encounter hostility, but it’s also because they are pulled out: women strongly out-perform boys in skills related to other types of careers, so sometimes they choose those instead.”
While all the various theories and the current facts are interesting, the real question is what exactly causes the gender gap in STEM studies and educational achievement? The sad truth is that while data exposes an indisputable gender gap, the reasons that contributed to these results are unclear. The roots of the problem are complex and nuanced and it seems many factors contribute to the discrepancies between males and females.
So, what can be done to help students stay the path to pursue a degree in a STEM field? For both male and female students, create opportunities for your student to meet some same gender role models in their areas of interest. No matter the topic, there are likely professional organizations in the specific STEM field that may have outreach efforts designed to stimulate interest in the field, and some may even offer internship opportunities to students (as an example, to find STEM career related associations or professional organizations, go to www.engineering.com for engineering and www.computer.com for computer science) . Finally, there is anecdotal evidence that high school’s where academic achievements are celebrated and rewarded are good for both male and female students. Frequently these schools are in affluent districts or in urban areas where the community has rallied behind the school’s educational goals.
A primary take away from this discussion is to seek support both inside and outside the school environment encouraging and rewarding academic excellence and providing role models and hands on experience to support STEM career interest for both females and males.