What young people think about science

I’ve been looking at research on young people’s attitudes to science. Partly to help me work out how we are going to measure any change caused by taking part in I’m a Scientist, and partly to help me understand what their attitudes are and so inform the materials we put together.

One of the most interesting things I’ve found out is that according to this report there’s little difference (globally) between how good boys and girls are at science, but there is a significant difference between how good they think they are.

“Males and females showed no difference in average science performance in the majority of countries, including 22 of the 30 OECD countries (Table 2.1c).
• In 12 countries, females outperformed males, on average, while males outperformed females in 8 countries. Most of these differences were small.
• In no OECD country was the gender difference larger than 12 points on the science scale.
• Some partner countries showed larger differences. In Qatar and Jordan, females were 32 and 29 points ahead of males, respectively.

Of the attitudes measured in PISA, the largest gender difference was observed in students’ selfconcept regarding science. In 22 out of the 30 OECD countries in the survey, males thought significantly more highly of their own science abilities than did females.”

This shouldn’t be that surprising, a (male) friend of mine pointed out that a recent meta-analysis of IQ studies concluded that men and women are fairly equal in terms of actual IQ, but men over-estimate theirs and women under-estimate theirs. I guess this is something teachers have to try to be aware of and allow for.

Another report which I’ve found very interesting is a literature review on young people’s attitudes to science, funded by the lovely Wellcome Trust. One of the many interesting ideas in this report is that young people have a stereotypical view that scientists, “enjoy working in isolation, with a limited social life”. i.e. They think scientists are friendless geeks, which is hardly a selling point. The authors go on to drily remark that, “If these perceptions do not attune with individual aspirations for the future, [young people] are unlikely to consider a career in science”.

Of course, as we know, most work in science is actually highly collaborative. The authors discuss whether showing young people more of the collaborative nature of science can combat these stereotypes. Hopefully that is the kind of thing young people will learn from I’m a Scientist.

We find with I’m a Councillor that young people have a lot of questions about what it’s actually like to be a councillor, whether they like the people they work with, “Do you have lots of arguments?” I’m sure they’ll ask the same questions here. It’s the opportunity to ask these kind of questions that really humanises the adults and breaks down barriers.

Posted on February 7, 2008 by in Science Education. Tagged , , , , , . 1 comment

One Response to What young people think about science

  1. SophiaC says:

    Message from Sai Pathmanathan, by email
    “Just read your latest blog post, there’s a fab book I’ve just read which might be useful: http://www.amazon.co.uk/YOUNG-PEOPLES-IMAGES-SCIENCE-DRIVER/dp/0335193811

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