A complex formula : girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Asia
UNESCO Bangkok Office
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This report reveals that gender differences in STEM fields do not start in the labour market, nor even in higher education – they begin in student performance as young as 15 years old. In countries where the gender gap in student performance at the secondary education level is at the expense of girls, women tend to be underrepresented in STEM fields of study in higher education and in the labour market. Girls also tend to do relatively better in science as opposed to mathematics at the secondary level, which may explain why females prefer to choose science-related fields of study in higher education and occupations, such as biology, chemistry and medicine as opposed to more mathematics-oriented fields such as physics and engineering. Although these differences are impacted by wider sociocultural and labour market preconceptions, education has a significant role to play to address this problem: 1) by stimulating interest among female students in STEM-related subjects, 2) by ensuring that educators are equipped to take more gender-responsive approaches and encourage female students to pursue STEM fields, and 3) by taking policy measures that are conducive to increasing the number of women in these fields. Stimulating, encouraging and supporting fair and equal opportunities for girls and boys to perform in STEM-related subjects at school, therefore, would equate to more girls and women in STEM fields of study in higher education and the world of work.