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Teachers urged to encourage girls to study physics

05/10/2012 Joanna
A new report has urged those in secondary teacher roles to encourage more girls to take an interest in physics.

The 'It's different for girls: The influence of schools' study by the Institute of Physics reveals that physics is unique among the three sciences - physics, biology and chemistry - in having a disproportionately low number of girls who go on to take the subject at A-level.

While for boys, the number who study science at A-level varies by just a few percent across the three disciplines, there appears to be marked discrimination against physics by girls.

In 2011, just 1.8 per cent of girls at maintained co-educational establishments in England decided to take physics at A-level, compared to 7.2 per cent for chemistry and 12 per cent for biology. Among boys, the range was 9.6 to 10.5 per cent.

Although single-sex schools produce more science students at A-level (up to 18.7 per cent for biology), physics again languishes well behind.

So what could explain this gender bias in physics?

"From the statistics alone it is impossible to tell whether this is due to factors within the school, peer pressures and cultural cues, lack of role models or a genuine lack of interest in the subject," professor Athene Donald, a physicist and gender equality champion at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC.

In an attempt to rebalance the subject, the report makes a number of recommendations - including some aimed directly at those with jobs in education.

"Trainee teachers need to be made aware of these differences, so that they can engage the same level of interest from both boys and girls in their classes," it said.

"The attitude that 'physics is for boys' should be discouraged among students and teachers … [and] teaching styles that suit each should be recognised and followed."

Posted by Alan DouglasADNFCR-2164-ID-801464497-ADNFCR
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