Following the publishing of a new three-year report into Ireland’s current state of play when it comes to STEM education, Prof Brian MacCraith has called the existing gender imbalance ‘unacceptable’.
As president of Dublin City University (DCU), MacCraith served as the lead of a new report into education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in Irish schools, produced by the STEM Education Review Group.
While the immediate fallout of the report focused on the real possibility that computer science could soon be a Leaving Certificate subject, one of the things that particularly stood out was the continued existence of a gender imbalance in STEM subjects.
According to the three-year study, the ratio of male students to female students at secondary level is greater than 3:1 for physics, whereas biology has been found to have a ratio of 2:3.
This under-representation of girls and women in subjects like physics and maths has far greater implications in the long term, the report found, leading to a similar imbalance in the Irish STEM workforce.
Citing figures from the Central Statistics Office, the report said that fewer than 25pc of approximately 120,000 people working in jobs that use STEM skills are women, largely due to the selection of subjects and third-level programmes by young women at a post-primary level.
Lowest representation found among engineering
“One key barrier in this regard arises from the fact that while parents are the main influencers when it comes to advising their daughters on how to define educational and career paths, they generally lack information about career options,” the report said.
By looking at data obtained from the 2014 Leaving Certificate, the STEM subject to have the least representation of women was engineering – with just 5.3pc of those studying at both higher and ordinary level being women.
Similar low figures were found for the subjects of construction studies (7.3pc) and design and communication graphics (9.9pc), yet technology showed a slightly higher standing of 25.9pc women.
The report has set out a series of ambitious targets that include a sustained, multifaceted action plan for addressing the gender imbalance. This needs to be implemented as a “matter of urgency” with particular emphasis placed on the marketing strategies and language used to promote it.
Sign of unused talent
Prof MacCraith has been one of the most active advocates for greater representation of women in STEM, having attended the launch of Silicon Republic’s Women Invent Tomorrow initiative back in 2014.
Following the launch of this latest report, MacCraith said to Siliconrepublic.com that the current state of play in STEM is far behind what we should be striving to achieve.
“The gender imbalance that we see in STEM jobs and in specific STEM disciplines, like physics and various branches of engineering, is unacceptable for a number of reasons,” he said.
“Not only does it reflect unused talent but it clearly reflects a denial of opportunity to young women. I am delighted that [Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, TD] has endorsed our recommendation to tackle this issue head on.”
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Prof Brian MacCraith, president, DCU. Image: Simon Lazewski/fotofarm.ie/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)