Classroom Stars

Girls in STEM: The Changing Landscape in Primary Schools After Covid-19

Primary school girl STEM lesson
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much talk about the opportunity to “build back better” and develop a greener, fairer, and more equal society and economy. But what does this mean for girls in STEM within primary schools?

The pandemic has highlighted the vital role of UK science and innovation, with scientists, including epidemiologists, immunologists and virologists, the new superheroes of our day. As politicians lean on “the science” and “data, not dates”, scientists and their research achievements have become a daily part of our news bulletins. One upside of this has been the increased public visibility of a number of highly qualified women in STEM leadership roles. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was developed in record time by a team of researchers at the University of Oxford led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, building on her 25 years of experience developing vaccines against malaria, influenza and emerging viral pathogens. Professor Sarah Gilbert was recently awarded the prestigious RSA Albert Medal for her services to collaborative innovation for the common good. She is the 156th recipient of this medal, which has been awarded since 1864, but only the 15th woman; to date, women account for less than 10 percent of awardees.

At the same time, COVID-19 is widening existing gender inequalities. Women have borne the brunt of extra childcare responsibilities during the extended periods of homeschooling. While home working increases flexibility, women – already responsible for three-quarters of unpaid work globally  – now do even more domestic chores and family care. Though the presence of female STEM leaders plays a vital role in showing girls that they can follow STEM careers, how does this fit within the day-to-day reality that children see at home and in their primary education?

Pre-COVID-19, women made up 24 percent of the STEM workforce in the UK – this proportion has been projected to reach a critical mass of 30 percent by 2030 (WISE, 2019). Just over a year since the first UK COVID-19 lockdown began, we wonder what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be for girls in STEM and what the STEM landscape will look like in 10 or even 20 years. Parents and teachers can build on the current visibility of female STEM leaders in the media to start discussions with children in the home and in the primary classroom, either for KS1 or KS2, showing girls that STEM careers can be their future. We are all familiar with the handful of female scientists that history has immortalised; a quick search of “female scientists” typically brings Marie Cure to the fore. But, brilliant scientist though she was, how effective can she be as a role model for a girl in primary school today? Let’s take this opportunity to update our lists of famous female scientists and show our girls they can be the STEM superheroes of tomorrow.

Parents and teachers can build on the current visibility of female STEM leaders in the media to start discussions with children in the home and the classroom, showing girls that STEM careers can be their future. Opportunities for these discussions may even arise during educational STEM lessons. We are all familiar with the handful of female scientists that history has immortalised; a quick search of “female scientists” typically brings Marie Cure to the fore. But, brilliant scientist though she was, how effective can she be as a role model for a girl in primary school today during KS1 and KS2 science lessons? Let’s take this opportunity to update our lists of famous female scientists on the primary national curriculum and show our girls they can be the STEM superheroes of tomorrow.

We provide a range of KS1 and KS2 resources for science, technology, engineering and maths for the primary age phase and lessons. Check them out!

If you liked this article, you might want to read about how to integrate meditation in the primary classroom.

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