33 SES 11 A, Ethics, Practice and Gender Bias in Science
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 , there is a significant gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Compared to men, only a small number of women are enrolled in STEM education programmes and an even smaller number graduate from them. Women constitute only 28% of people in higher STEM education worldwide and just 32% in North America and Western Europe, respectively . Under-representation in the fields of STEM science has several negative consequences for women, particularly socio-economically, as STEM-related positions, currently held mostly by men, are better paid .
Female under-representation in STEM cannot be explained by women's weaker cognitive abilities in these disciplines. To the contrary, several studies indicate that girls’ and boys’ abilities and performance in STEM fields are comparable . Research shows that what is actually keeping women away from science are stereotypes about women and STEM and biased images of science as male realms. For instance, studies confirm that science or scientific subjects are considered male domains by both boys and girls , that females are stereotypically believed to fit human-centred fields , and that mathematics and related studies are viewed as areas of male superiority . Consequently, a typical scientist is perceived as male [5 Ibid].
These stereotypes regarding gender and science have been associated with student self-image , particularly academic self-image, which develops already in early childhood . Academic self-concept is composed of students’ achievements, on one hand, and influenced by parents’ and teachers’ attitudes or behaviours, on the other . The role of the latter, also called ‘influential others’, in shaping students’ self-identity is clear and consistently presented in the literature .
Although different countries are striving to address the gender gap in STEM fields through various interventions, such as quota policies and investments to promote the image of female scientists , the gender imbalance in science remains and, according to the OECD , is not likely to change in the near future.
The objective of our ongoing study, therefore, is to understand how to promote STEM to girls and women as interesting and attractive areas of study and as worthwhile and rewarding career options. To attain these goals, we explore what content and teaching methods in STEM are attractive to girls. We also explore the attitudes of 'influential others’ regarding the role of girls and women in science and the impact of these attitudes on girls’ identities and attitudes to science. Finally, we aim to identify what key factors shape the science career aspirations of female students.
The research seeks answers to these perennial questions, which several previous studies have grappled with, by investigating the problem through the innovative pedagogical framework for teaching and learning science, Open Science Schooling (OSS). . Additionally, the OSS framework in this study is particularly focused on climate change as a topical and pressing issue science can help find solutions to. We consider that setting the study in the OSS framework, as an alternative to the traditional pedagogical paradigm, enables us to offset some of the gender biases ingrained in the traditional approach.
Since the role of teachers is so crucial when it comes to influencing students’ academic identities, we decided to begin the study by identifying the attitudes to women and STEM of the teachers and educators involved in the project. In this paper, we thus present the first part of our baseline investigations concerning teachers’ attitudes and biases with respect to gender and science that were brought to the project at its outset.
The research is framed within a European project using Open Science Schooling learning missions and activities to develop innovative science learning experiences in secondary schools from five different European countries: Lithuania, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, and Sweden. This variety of different European contexts allows to draw a better picture of the issue of gender imbalance in science learning as well as to produce more inclusive, complex, and context-sensitive insights into the problem. The overall project data is derived from stories  of the students and accounts of the teachers generated during students’ climate change missions – scientific explorations designed by students during which the students immerse in studying phenomena of their interest in their communities. The qualitative data generated during the missions is then analysed using narrative analysis methods. The quantitative data in form of surveys and questionnaires answered by students’, teachers and students’ guardians constitutes an equally important body of study data which was analysed using quantitative analytical tools. An important aspect of the study’s methodology is co-design and co-creation of the study findings by the participating students and teachers. The co-creation took place during collective evaluations of findings and special co-creation events. Co-creation enabled us in this study to bridge the gap between knowledge production and practice, by capturing the essence of practice in the knowledge that was produced. The part of the data presented in this paper derives from the survey conducted at the project’s outset among the teachers and researchers involved in the project teaching activities. The teachers (11 females, 1 male) were asked to complete the Implicit Association Test (IAT) regarding gender-science biases, and subsequently answer a set of questions regarding the test results: - What was your IAT result? - Was the test result contradictory or consistent with how you think you link science with gender? - What is your reaction to the result? - In your opinion, how correlation of science with male gender (even if unconscious) may influence the way a teacher teaches science to female students? [answer options included: insignificant, little, moderate, substantial, great influence and ‘difficult to say’] The survey participants had extensive teaching experience: 50% of the respondents reported over 20 years of experience in teaching, 25% between 15 - 20 years of teaching experience, while the remaining 25% had taught for 10 years or more (10-14 years). Over 90% of the surveyed teachers were women; one male teacher participated in the survey.
The results of the IAT test suggest that ‘7’ teachers linked science with male gender, ‘3’ teachers linked science with female gender, and ‘2’ teachers indicated little or no association between science and either male or female gender. Our observations: 1. Being a female science teacher does not automatically mean not holding male–science bias. All ‘7’ respondents that indicated male–science association were women, whereas the only male respondent indicated female–science association. 1.1 ‘5’ male–science IAT results were found to be consistent with the views on science and gender held by the participants. One respondent further supported this bias in a comment approving the gender stereotype in science: “Science is associated with male gender because mostly men are the ones interested in technology and girls do not find their way in science neither”. 1.2. ‘2’ respondents’ AIT male–science result contradicted their personal views. One of the respondents attributed this apparent cognitive dissonance to the test design. The other expressed that they are in support of gender equality. 2. In the case of the ‘3’ female–science and ‘2’ IAT results indicating no gender association, the results were reported to be consistent with the respondents' views. 3. A pattern was identified regarding the perceived influence of male bias in teaching science to female students. Those who reported male–science bias in the AIT indicated moderate perceived influence, whereas those whose IAT association was female–science or neutral indicated great perceived influence of male bias in teaching science to girls. The survey results clearly indicate a strong need to work with teachers regarding their potential gender biases – revealing and challenging them. Without shifting teachers’ attitudes, the innovativeness of the OSS framework and focus on climate change solutions may not be enough to sustainably attract female students to science studies and careers.
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