Are STEM Skills for Everyone? YES!

by Zena Smith

If you’re one to read up on educational topics, you’re probably already familiar with the term: STEM skills.

If you’ve never heard of STEM, pay attention. Because in 21st century—both for college-bound students and those headed straight for the job market—a healthy STEM skill set is more important than ever.

What is STEM?
STEM refers to the academic and professional fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

STEM skills are core competencies and abilities an individual must have in order to work effectively in these settings. STEM skills can be:

  • STEM Technical: troubleshooting skills, computer and software skills
  • Analytical: research, reasoning, and problem solving skills
  • Mathematical: performing complex calculations, converting numbers and units, understanding of scientific laws and principles
  • Procedural: running a scientific experiment, following a blueprint

It should be noted that male students have traditionally outperformed their female classmates in STEM coursework, and that advantage has translated to related job markets being dominated by men.

But what accounts for the gender disparity in STEM skill levels? If you’re of the mind that men are simply better suited for STEM tasks than women, think again. While that is often the stereotype, a number of recent studies suggest otherwise.  We may interpret boys as being more STEM-ready students than girls, but the reality is that we—as parents and teachers—may have a heavier hand in the matter than we realize.

The Myth:
Boys possess more innate STEM ability than girls.

The Facts:
Boys are socially conditioned to succeed in STEM environments, whereas girls are not.

Studies Show…

  • Parents and teachers offer greater encouragement to young boys performing math-related tasks than they do girls in the same environment.
  • Mothers commonly overestimate boys’ mathematical abilities while providing more accurate readings of the abilities of their girls.
  • In educational environments such as zoos and museum exhibits, parents explain scientific concepts 3x more often to boys than to girls.
  • Similarly, mothers bring up numbers and numeric concepts twice as often in conversation with boys as girls.
  • Traditional gender-specific toys for boys tend to have more STEM value than those for girls.

So how do we shrink the gender achievement gap in STEM fields, and where to we start? The key in this case is awareness at all levels.

Be aware:

  • STEM1that STEM skills matter. There is no getting out of it. In 2014, STEM skills are the single most valuable skillset your student can have. Whether it means getting into college or simply finding a job, it is absolutely necessary for all students to develop basic STEM skills.
  • where gender disparity exists. The first step to fixing a problem is realizing it is one that needs your attention. Specifically if you’re parent to a daughter, it may be wise (particularly at young ages) to find ways to work science topics and mathematical matters into daily conversations.
  • how you resist or reinforce that disparity. Everything about the way you interact with your child—from the things you talk about to the toys you buy them—plays into their understanding of the world and their command of basic STEM skills. Are you more likely to point out the moving parts on a train to your son than your daughter? Would you buy building blocks for your nephew’s birthday but a doll or jewelry for your niece’s?It may seem odd, but these simple actions really can have a lasting effect on the way these children handle STEM skills and related tasks.
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