A recent report reveals the increasing gender gap between men and women, indicating that an alarming lack of women are taking up studies in science and maths. According to the new OECD data, only one in twenty women from member nations will pursue a career in science, engineering or maths.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report examined the nature of education within member nations and the similarities in maths-based test scores between men and women. In short, the report asserts that men and women have the same capabilities, but differing levels of confidence.

Dr Cathy Foley, a chief science director within the CSIRO, discussed the news with the ABC.

“The report shows that if you look at the testing of girls and boys in maths and science, that there’s a small difference, about 3 per cent difference, so let’s say they’re about equal,” she explained. “What it’s saying is … that girls are just not choosing to head into careers or do subjects that allows them to [have] careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And when you think of the way the world is going, technology-related career choices and opportunities [are] really where the future is, they’re just not going to be in a position to be competitive.”

Dr Foley says that general trends in education are also affecting the uptake of science and maths based subjects.

“One of the things that I suppose is alarming is … in the last 15 years or so since about 2001, the number of girls and boys not choosing to do maths in their final years in high school has tripled. For boys it’s gone from about 3 per cent to 9 per cent but now it’s got to a point where about 25 per cent of girls are not choosing to do any maths in their last years of high school.

“So we’re seeing that girls are choosing in greater numbers to not undertake even the basic literacy subjects, just so that they can go into the world knowing more about maths and science, so that even on day-to-day levels they’re able to make sense of the world. That’s concerning, but then from a career perspective, they need those as a baseline in order to step into courses that allow them to be studying for careers … from engineering and sciences, but also in many businesses today the opportunities in technology-related industry.”

In order to remain on an even social footing, Dr Foley says that school-age girls should be encouraged by those around them to pursue usually male-dominated subjects.

“The role of parents and teachers is huge,” she asserted. “I think if you look at any studies it says that kids choose a lot of their subjects, or their future is dependent on, parental and teacher influence and if they’ve got a bias or an unknown bias or if they’ve got even a lack of knowledge then they’re just going to go with what they know… We need to have some sort of recognition or campaign to make sure that parents and teachers realise that we have this unconscious bias.”

It’s a fascinating report filled with food for thought, so check it out!

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