Engaging primary girls in STEM

Best practice implementation, innovations and gaps in Victorian classrooms
Australian curriculum Girls Educational achievement Primary education STEM education School curriculum Student engagement Australia
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The case for increasing girls’ and women’s interest and uptake in STEM careers has been clearly outlined and resonated with educators, industry, and policy-makers in Australia.

International research has found that girls have a natural interest in STEM related subjects and activities. However, girls’ interest in STEM is found to diminish, or be abandoned, as girls age. This is partly due to cultural and gender-based stereotypes which manifest in media and popular culture portrayals of STEM, messaging about STEM from parents, and the way STEM is presented and taught in the education system. 

It is recognised that primary school years are critical in harnessing and developing girls interests and enthusiasm for STEM activities and education. However, some primary school teachers lack the knowledge, capacity, and confidence to teach STEM, and that an overpopulated curriculum does not lend itself easily to integrating change and STEM approaches to teaching. 

In 2015, the Office of the Chief Scientist for Australia released a position paper recognising that STEM teaching needs to start in primary school and that unique challenges and responses are required to strengthen girls’ STEM engagement. It acknowledged that pre-service teaching courses need more rigor and further emphasis on increasing pre-service teachers’ knowledge of science, mathematics and technology. The paper also calls for the transformation of STEM teaching in primary schools. Recommendations include a national professional development program for teachers, facilitating principal leadership, and providing access to STEM specialists in schools (Prinsley & Johnston, 2015). 

The Invergowrie Foundation is a public charitable trust dedicated to the advancement of education of girls and women in Victoria. The Foundation has funded a three-year project to enable Swinburne University to develop resources and tools to assist teachers and parents with engaging primary school girls in STEM. This report forms part of the project: summarising recommendations for best practice and guides further project efforts. 

This report is based on a review of current literature. A limited amount of published academic literature could be located that specifically addresses the intersection of primary school aged girls (approximately 5-11 years old) and STEM engagement. We found that more attention was paid to this topic by grey literature, mostly in the form of consultancy reports and reviews which were commissioned by government or industry. Findings from this review are reported below, with a focus given to everyday classroom practices within the current educational context. 

This report addresses one of our key project objectives - to curate and create free resources for use by teachers and parents within the current environment to assist the now to the future state.

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