The claim that girls have a “natural” aversion to physics is detrimental

Girls are as capable as boys in science and mathematics, but say their deep-rooted attitude hinders the involvement of female students. Maria Rossini


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May 18, 2022

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Simone Rotella

From Katherine Johnson, known for her pioneering work at NASA, to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell and epidemiologist Snetra Gupta, women are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I have made a great contribution. However, its contributions often remain underestimated, followed by the false story that science is the subject of boys and girls lack the aptitude for research and work in the STEM field in the United Kingdom.

These long-standing negative assumptions were recently demonstrated in a survey of STEM diversity by the Science and Technology Commission of the British Parliament. Catherine Bill Balsin, head of the Michaela Community School in London and chairman of the Social Mobility Commission, said that girls in her school have a “natural” dislike for physics, and girls He said it would be accompanied by “rather not” and “difficult math”.

Contrary to Birbalsingh’s comment, the evidence shows that girls are as capable as boys. Girls have GCSE math and science qualifications from the age of 14, surpassing their male peers, with 68% getting Grade A * -C and 65% boys in 2015.

Nonetheless, only about 23 percent of enrollees with A-level physics qualifications from the age of 16 are girls. Although there is clearly a fundamental reason behind these statistics, Bilbalsin’s comments accurately highlight the types of harmful stereotypes that have led many young women to move away from these subjects.

Studies show that, despite being highly competent, many girls feel “naturally” not smart enough to lack self-confidence proportional to their math and physics abilities.

This is partly due to the concept of “easily and wise physicists” in popular culture (physics is presented as coming naturally, not working) and the view that physics is “masculine and difficult”. It is due. Exactly the same nasty story that Bilbalsin endorsed.

Also, it is much more difficult for girls to pursue a STEM career without a female role model that they respect in their research. Representatives of exciting female scientists can be an important part of raising aspirations and dismantling harmful stereotypes. However, analysis of the Double Science GCSE specification from major testing committees only mentions Rosalind Franklin and Mary Leakey. In contrast, you can find the names of 40 male scientists.

It is clear that exam specification designs, deep-seated social attitudes, and potential gatekeeping practices in some UK schools need to be reassessed and addressed.

As Julie Moot’s study at the University College London emphasizes, to help teachers better understand the complex and invisible ways in which education enhances gender, class and racial inequality. Greater support for teachers is needed.

Some studies also suggest that girls place more emphasis on seeing the social relevance of the work they do and are more involved in the project-based approach to STEM. You can now identify it. Despite my A grade, I quit physics and math after GCSE. After that, I had the opportunity to become part of a team doing physics-based projects and tackle real physics challenges. This caused a new love for the subject, sadly it was too late to study it further.

As a community, we need to look at our attitudes and failures when deep-seated attitudes about science and misguided cultural gender stereotypes lead to systematic barriers that discourage girls from being involved. Now is the time to call for opinions like Bilbalsin, create a learning environment that actively decomposes stereotypes, and help girls and other underrepresented groups succeed in STEM subjects.

Maria Rossini I am the director of education for the British Science Association. @MariaTKRossini

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