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Old fashioned parents failing to encourage daughters to study science and tech

A survey found parents are key influencers in a students’ subject and career choice but most of them think men are better at these jobs.

Image: scientists child image via Shutterstock

PARENTS WHO ARE lacking information and reinforced stereotypes are among the main reasons for the lack of women working on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) areas, according to a study.

The research released by Accenture Ireland yesterday found that established perceptions about how suitable these ‘STEM’ jobs are for girls and the difficulty of these subjects at Leaving Cert level are “ultimately inhibiting young women from entering the sector”.

Most of the respondents in the survey said parents were the key influencers in a student’s choice of Leaving Cert subjects and their career choice.

However, results show that parents are “struggling to get to grips with the new world of work” and despite being aware of the importance of these areas, 68 per cent feel ‘moderately,’ ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’ equipped to advise their daughters on career choices in them.

The survey found there is a commonly held view among parents, students and teachers that men are better suited to jobs in these areas than women.

One in four teachers said that the active promotion of so-called ‘traditional’ girls’ career paths (such as nursing or teaching) contributes to the stereotype.

The perceived difficulty of these subjects was another reason for female students to avoid them, with 91 per cent of teachers indicating that girls pick biology because they think it is the easiest science subject. 31 per cent of young women surveyed (age 18-23) studied higher maths but changed to lower level in the year before their Leaving Cert. Of those, 56 per cent said they did so as they believed they would not be able to accomplish the required work to earn a good grade at higher level.

Almost a quarter of parents said that the Leaving Certificate is about getting the maximum points, and studying the subjects that will help achieve this goal.

Commenting on the report yesterday, Minister for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon said:

The results and recommendations contained in this Accenture report should help us break down the perceived barriers to students taking up STEM subjects and will enable more young girls, as well as boys, to be confident in choosing the STEM subjects in their post-primary education, thus giving them the foundation and the option of following a rich, exciting and varied career in the STEM areas.

Minister Sean Sherlock recently established a STEM Education Review Group and Cannon said the research emanating from this report will form part of the review process.

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