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Girls' interest in STEM 'can be cultivated by fun activities at a young age'

19/05/2017 Joanna

Taking part in fun activities related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can help to foster a lasting interest in these subjects among young girls.

This is according to a new study from the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS), which suggested that activity-based programmes for young girls can help to break down the stigmas that exist around females taking part in these disciplines.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, the study enrolled involved 96 six-year-olds, including both boys and girls. One group of pupils took part in an activity where they used a smartphone to programme an animal-like robot to carry out commands, before answering survey questions about their opinions on male and female aptitude in STEM-related fields.

Meanwhile, a second group played a storytelling card game before answering the same questions, while the third group completed the survey without any preceding activity session.

In the group who completed the robot activity, boys and girls showed an equal interest in technology and equivalent feelings of confidence in their own abilities; for those in the other two groups, a 42 per cent gender gap in technology interest appeared, with an even greater gap in perceived STEM self-efficacy of 80 per cent.

This shows that girls tend to absorb cultural stereotypes about women in STEM that leads them to write off their own interest in such subjects before they can develop. As such, activity sessions of this kind could be a valuable tool in dismantling such perceptions.

Study leader Allison Master, a research scientist at I-LABS, said: "Stereotypes get built up in our heads from many different sources and experiences, but perhaps if we give girls more experience doing these kinds of activities, that will give them more resources to resist those stereotypes.

"They might be able to say, 'I can still be good at this and enjoy it, despite the cultural stereotypes.'"

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