On Tuesday, Irish Minister for Education Norma Foley announced the launch of a new document aimed at addressing gender balance in early STEM education by outlining barriers preventing girls from participating in STEM and proposing interventions.

Research has shown there is no single intervention that will achieve gender equity in STEM, and different segments of the population — be it divisions by wealth, race, ethnicity, or disability status — may further hinder participation. This caveat is acknowledged in the report, with the government pledging a “requirement to support multiple interventions addressing different segments of the ecosystem to effect the change required.”  

Minister Foley says the document will serve as a resource for creating future policies. 

Margie McCarthy, chair of the Gender Balance in STEM group and a chartered engineer and Head of Education and Public Engagement with Science Foundation Ireland said addressing gender parity will be an ongoing challenge.

“This isn’t easy, otherwise the problem would have been solved many years ago,” McCarthy said in a statement.

“This review is the foundation to ensuring these actions are evidence-based and informed by the knowledge of why these imbalances are happening and what works best in addressing them.”

The second phase of the project will be the implementation of new strategies, which will begin in 2021 and last through to 2023.



Despite research showing that boys and girls are equally equipped to succeed in STEM, boys are more likely to pursue the sciences at the post-secondary level.

Researchers have identified several contributing factors, including societal expectationsfamily attitudes, and a lack of role models and mentors.

A 2019 paper that analyzed data on 300,000 students aged 15 years from 64 countries found that students of all genders demonstrated proficiencies in math and reading, but females who were good at math appeared to be “much more likely” to be better at reading than their male counterparts.

The study suggests girls may be socialized to think math and literature are mutually exclusive fields, and they must choose one, despite being qualified to study both.

Because some female students see a “competitive advantage” over males in reading, they may be more likely to deviate from math.

The authors of the paper believe that girls’ comparative verbal advantage, when measured against the difference in their reading and math scores, could “explain up to 80 per cent of the gender gap in intentions to pursue math-studies and careers.”

A 2017 paper published in the journal Science found that girls begin to doubt their intellectual abilities by the time they reach six years of age.

At that point, the girls involved in the study “were prepared to lump more boys into the “really, really smart” category and to steer themselves away from games intended for the “really, really smart,” the paper reads.

In a statement, Merrilyn Goos, lead author of the new research by the Government of Ireland and professor of STEM Education and Director of EPI*STEM at the University of Limerick, is calling for a collaborative effort to address the gender gap.

“STEM education is a shared responsibility across education departments and other government agencies, schools, teachers, families, industry and business, and communities,” Goos says.

“Our report shows that we need to bring together these key constituencies to build a coordinated approach to addressing gender balance in STEM education.”

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