Sign up for free resources:
Subscription Form - Footer

Gender-irrelevant education

girl and boy playing tic-tac-toe

In 2016, 13% of nursing students in Australia were male, only 2% more than three decades earlier. At this rate, it will take well over 500 years to achieve gender parity[1]. We spoke to developmental psychologist Dr Christia Spears Brown from the University of Kentucky, USA, who confirmed that young girls perceive STEM subjects such as IT, maths, and physics as male domains. This gender divide is apparent in consistently low numbers of female undergraduate and postgraduate students in maths and physics[2].

According to Dr Spears Brown, gender biases are well-entrenched associations developed in the first few years of life. Just like a toddler learning a language through comprehension of recurring grammatical structures, humans recognise and internalise patterns in all aspects of life. This ability enables children to adapt to their world quickly and efficiently. It also means, however, that once these patterns are established, it takes time and effort to detect and rewire them. In other words, we are all biased and unconsciously express gender stereotypes.

Here are just a few tips on how to overcome gender bias in early STEM learning.

1. Understand your bias.

As gender bias manifests early in life, we are not aware of it until we explicitly look for it. For instance, educators and teachers may be more prone to noticing (and praising) the STEM learning in popular boy play, like construction, than in popular girl activities, like home or pretend play. Asking ourselves questions such as, “What is a typical girl like?” and “What are girls and boys naturally drawn to?” can help us unravel those deeply ingrained patterns.

2. Monitor your language.

The language we use with our children has an enormous impact on the development of gender stereotypes: the chances are that a child’s first experience of STEM education will be in an early learning setting. Gendered language may surface when describing STEM, for example showing images of mostly boys and men partaking in STEM activities and professions or by defaulting to “he/him” pronouns when referring to astronauts, doctors, or engineers.

3. Practice makes perfect.

Identifying gender stereotypes becomes easier the more we analyse our behaviour, thoughts, and reactions in everyday situations. Critically reflecting upon your language and learning environments can go a long way in addressing the gender bias in early STEM learning. In short, the more we know about our stereotypical thoughts, the better we can control them.

4. Enter the Little Scientists Early STEM Education Awards 2024!

We’re thrilled to announce the upcoming launch of our 4th Little Scientists Early STEM Education Awards: Australia’s only dedicated awards to recognise the early childhood educators and early primary teachers driving excellence in early STEM education. Our 2024 awards theme is “Overcoming gender bias in early STEM education”, which means Little Scientists is calling on educators and teachers to demonstrate how you’re moving the needle on gender stereotypes and implicit biases that are holding young girls back in STEM education.

Category 1. Excellence in Early STEM Education Award invites early learning services and early primary classrooms to develop an inquiry-based STEM project. 

Category 2.Outstanding Early STEM Education Leader Award invites early childhood educators & early primary teachers to nominate via a questionnaire. 

Submissions open on 1 March 2024. Click here to learn more about our 2024 Awards and plan your nomination.

Little Scientists Early STEM Education Awards 2024

[1] [2] Grattan Institute: The gender divide at university

Avatar: Woman with brown eyes and brown hair up in bun
Article author: Heike Hendershot
National Training Manager

Heike manages the development of our workshop content and supports our training facilitators. A critical thinker with the ability to wonder, she believes in honouring each child’s individual skills and abilities.

Sign up for our newsletter & Awards info:
Subscription Form - Footer