Girls are not as turned off by science as is commonly believed but they are much more concerned than boys about the ethical issues surrounding the subject, according to a new study.
The finding has implications for the teaching of science according to the study's author, Professor Helen Haste, Chair of the BA Council. "If we want to get girls more interested in science and technology, we must move away from purveying the 'space and techie' stereotype that seems to appeal to boys and bring ethics and the human context into the science curriculum," says Professor Haste.
Of the young people interviewed, a third of boys and a third of girls would be interested in a job relating to science; an encouraging finding, given the declining numbers entering some fields of university science.
The most striking finding is that girls who are enthusiastic about a career related to science are the most critical of it. They are most concerned about ethical issues and are most sceptical of claims that science can solve human problems like poverty and unhappiness. These girls are also less interested in science fiction. Boys who would like a career in science, in contrast, more closely fit the popular image of science. They are keen on space and technology, believe that science can be applied widely to human problems and are less concerned by ethical issues.
According to Professor Haste: "These results are very surprising. We might expect that girls who are critical of science or worried about ethics would be those who are least tuned into science. But it seems that for girls, being more interested in science goes hand in hand with sensitivity to ethical issues, dangers, and the context in which scientific development happens. Also girls don't seem to equate science and technology in the way that boys do. Girls separate science, which they like, from technology, which they find much less appealing."
The findings come from a national study, 'Science in my future', of 704 young people aged 11 - 21 years, conducted by the Nestlé Social Research Programme, with fieldwork undertaken by MORI. The project explored young people's attitudes and values around science and technology.
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