Top electronic engineer Dr Carol Marsh says that women are missing out on STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and maths) because they are being deterred from the subjects at a young age.
She believes that girls-only science classes in primary schools could help address this issue. Marsh, who is considered to be one of Scotland’s leading female engineers, is the deputy head of electronic engineering at the Edinburgh site of Leonardo, one of the UK’s leading aerospace companies and one of biggest suppliers of defence and security equipment to the UK Ministry of Defence.
A former president of the Women’s Engineering Society, Marsh has won numerous accolades for her engineering work and her championing of gender equality in STEM. She runs a number of female-only clubs and has more than 30 years’ experience working in the electronics industry.
According to the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey, only 22% of the UK’s STEM workforce is female. Marsh believes that female-only clubs would help remedy this statistic by making it easier for them to actively engage in class without feeling self-conscious and by changing long-standing perceptions about the subject.
“I’m still shocked when I go out to lots of schools and hear girls are being told physics is too difficult for them,” Marsh said. “To get women into the industry we need to start off with female-only clubs. In mixed groups the girls hang back while the boys just jump in and use the equipment. A vast pool of talent and ability is getting overlooked. But it’s not just about getting to the kids – we need to get the message out to teachers and parents, too.”
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Although there are number of initiatives to tackle the issues, Marsh says there is a lack of a coherent, coordinated strategy. She also believes that all primary schools should have an in-house science teacher to help encourage pupils to become engaged with STEM.
General secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Larry Flanagan, believes the solution should be smaller classes rather than gender segregated classes. “The EIS is clear educational experiences and environments must be fully inclusive,” he said.
“However, the research evidence on the efficacy of gendered learning groups isn’t conclusive. In response to the perceived challenges of STEM for girls, the increased adoption of the collaborative approaches enabled by smaller classes, would have the potential to make STEM learning more attractive and engaging. The EIS would support the deployment of science specialists in primary schools to support class teachers in delivering this area of the curriculum.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Improving equity and equality is one of our key priorities. We welcome any initiative which would encourage pupils’ – including girls’ – participation in STEM activities. However, we believe segregating children will not necessarily achieve change – and could potentially reinforce the notion that girls and boys are different.
“That is why, to tackle gender imbalances in STEM, we are working with schools through the improving gender balance and equalities team in Education Scotland, who are taking forward a programme of work under the STEM education and training strategy. We have also taken action to raise awareness of gender bias with parents, families and teachers at all stages of the education process.”