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Jayati Godhawat

JWB Blogger

Here’s Why Female Students Don’t Pursue STEM Disciplines

  • JWB Post
  •  August 4, 2016


According to a study published in PLOS ONE, the researchers established that majority of female college students drop science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) because of lack of confidence in mathematical ability.

And no, it doesn’t imply that they have a low mathematical capability, but because they are not sure of themselves pursuing it successfully.

The study was conducted by following over 2000 students from 129 colleges and universities who were enrolled in Calculus I, i.e. a prerequisite for studying STEM in the US. When students with the same background, experience, and plans were compared, they observed that the female students were 1.5 times more likely than male students to leave STEM after their first course in the calculus series.

Interestingly, the 35% of the girl students who took the survey selected one common reason for dropping the idea of pursuing STEM which was: They believed that they did not understand the concepts of Calculus I well enough to go on to the next course.

The researchers also found that initially, male and female students lost confidence equally over the course of the term, but the real cause was that female students entered the program with a lower confidence level.

 “The sad thing to me [is that] it wasn’t that women were losing confidence at higher rates than men,” says Ellis, the lead author of the study. “It was that they were coming in with lower confidence.”

The researchers also suggested that if the women stayed in STEM after Calculus I, the number of women entering the STEM workforce would increase by 75%.

Many educators and experts think that the solution to encourage women to pursue a career in STEM is through active learning, which encourages student participation and boosts their confidence through approaches like smaller classes, group work, completing problem sets in class, etc.

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