Shattering stereotypes in STEM

Women in science: Sivapragasam said the country needs to showcase more female role models in STEM for young students to emulate.

HIGHLIGHT the achievements of successful women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to get girls interested in the field.

Students need more female role models to emulate, said Dr Magaret Sivapragasam.

Acknowledging that gender-based stereotypes exist in STEM, particularly towards women, the Quest International University lecturer and Foundation in Science programme head

said educators and the industry must show that the sciences offer equal opportunities to men and women.

Addressing the gender gap in science-related jobs, she said biased stereotypes if not addressed, can be discouraging for girls who are passionate about Maths and Science.

If they do not see a future, they may not want to pursue their interest in the field. Instead of cultivating their curiosity, they may just turn their backs on STEM.

Negative stereotypes that need to be dispelled include how engineering is still perceived as a manly profession by some.

“We must break stereotypes that equate jobs with genders.

“Teachers should encourage girls to take STEM in school and parents should encourage their daughters to explore these subjects, ” she said.

Last week, StarEdu highlighted a study titled ‘Gender Differences in the Interest in Mathematics Schoolwork Across 50 Countries’ which stated that Malaysian female students were far more engaged in the subject of Mathematics than their male counterparts.

Gone are the days, Sivapragasam said, where women were underrepresented in STEM.

But the gender stereotypes are still entrenched in society. Breaking these stereotypes must start in school, she said.

The good news is that a growing number of educators are paving the way forward not just in gender equality but also in the teaching and learning of STEM.

The country has remarkable and dedicated educators, she said, who go all out to make teaching and learning interesting.

The key to effective education is to make it relatable to the learners, she said.

Once students get to see the relevance of classroom teaching in the real-world, a sense of curiosity will be sparked.

“Half the battle is won when curious minds are birthed.

“To strengthen STEM education in Malaysia, the hurdle lies in getting students to fall in love with science and ultimately choosing science when they reach Year Four.

“The main idea is to showcase the application of science and how it can be used in everyday life, ” she added.

She said one of the core reasons why students shy away from STEM subjects is the difficulty and complexity in grasping its fundamental conceptual knowledge.

Foundation level and school teachers, she suggested, could work with universities on activities to develop students’ critical thinking, communication, assessment and inquiry skills through design and invention.

Additionally, there is a need to develop a curriculum that stretches beyond basic knowledge.

“It is imperative that these activities be aligned with the growing demand of the STEM workforce.

“Through this, an early interest in STEM can be fostered which in turn, will generate a supply of science students coming into tertiary programmes, ” she added.

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