Researchers at the University of Houston and the University of Washington looked at how early STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) stereotypes begin for children. Well, very early as it happens. At age 6, many kids already believe that boys are more interested in STEM than their female peers. This stereotype significantly impairs girls' desire to participate in activities, studies, and careers related to these very important subjects.
The study's results showed that by first grade, many students already believe that boys are more interested than girls in engineering, while by third grade, many of them believe that girls are less interested than boys in computer science. Another worrisome finding: By age 8, if the girls were told that girls are generally not interested in a specific activity, they showed less interest in it. Conversely, they were more ready to try activities if they were told that both girls and boys were interested. Remarkably, the idea that girls supposedly find STEM less engaging has a stronger influence on girls being interested in it than the idea they would have lower "abilities" for it.
According to Allison Master, an assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Education and lead author of the study, "Stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies" that may dissuade girls from developing an interest in these fields. Parents, caregivers, and teachers should be aware of these early gender biases and the impact of the messages they may transmit to their kids about who can become a successful engineer or scientist.
Perhaps an even more worrying observation: Some preschool teachers are less likely to provide math and science lessons in their classrooms because they are not confident about their own knowledge in these areas. To address this lack of early exposure to STEM, the Brooklyn Preschool of Science was launched ten years ago in New York City to involve young kids in science through daily lessons.
"Kids are natural-born scientists. You have to do it when they're young. That's when they absorb the content, they will start to understand and not have fears," said Carmelo Piazza, the executive and educational director of the Brooklyn Preschool of Science. So true!
Picture: Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) and Robotics Programs (YouTube)