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Female topics encourage girls to study science

16 February 2011 British Psychological Society (BPS)

Girls are more interested in studying science if topics are presented in a female friendly way.
This is one of the findings of Dr Sylvie Kerger the University of Luxembourg whose research is published online the British Journal of Educational Psychology by BPS Journals in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell.

There has been concern over the decreasing number of students studying scientific fields such as statistics, physics and information technology. These disciplines contribute strongly to national growth and well-being. As girls have less interest in these disciplines but perform just as well as boys this study attempted to find out if making it more relevant to girls would encourage more to study them.
For the study 134 boys and 160 girls (14 years old) completed questionnaires relating to their interest in 80 topics. Before completing this they were told:

'Imagine that you will visit a new school next year, where you can select your subjects. Now we will present different subjects to you which you can select. Each subject has different topics. You can say how much you are interested in it.'
For example to gauge interest in physics students were asked about the functioning of a laser. The feminine context was 'how is a laser used in cosmetic surgery' and the masculine context was 'how does a laser read a CD'.
Students rated their interest from 1-5 and were not aware which scientific discipline the question related to.
The results showed that girls had a significantly higher interest in IT, statistics and physics when concepts were presented in a female friendly way. Unfortunately this led to a significant decrease in boys' interest.
Dr Kerger said "There was clear evidence that applying female friendly topics increased girls' interest in these scientific disciplines. However, boys showed a decreased level of interest when topics were presented in this way. Girls were more interested in social and real contexts such as decline of forests whereas boys clearly found mechanics and technology more compelling.

"One solution might be to establish gender-specific science classes. However, this solution might not work for every student. Imagine a girl whose interest does not match that of other girls and a boy who is more interested in female topics than in male topics. So the solution might not be the division of students into gender-specific groups, but something that takes into account the individual differences among students.
"Perhaps teachers and or schools could offer science modules or groups dealing with the same concepts but presenting them in the context of different topics. Each student could then choose the science modules or groups using the topics that seem the most interesting to themselves."

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