Gender in Science Education

Gender parity in primary education has been achieved in most Latin American countries, while at the secondary level, many countries in the region show disparity in favour of females. Girls outnumber boys overall in secondary enrollments while female enrollment is greater than male enrollment in most Latin American countries at the tertiary level. However, the gender balance for science and technology remains in favour of males overall.

  • At the primary level, even though girls and boys have the same access to coursework, they do not emerge with the same levels of understanding due to lack of life experiences and ability to participate actively in class (Malcom, 2010).
  • Girls do not pursue science and technical studies at the same rate as boys, though there is variation by subject area and by country. Societal and parental attitudes toward boys’ and girls’ abilities play a role here, as does access to resources.
  • Quality of teaching materials can be poor, and perceptions that girls are less able to “do” science, are expressed in teaching pedagogy and curricula. This tends to influence interest and self-confidence in ability to successfully "do" S&T on the part of girls and boys (UNESCO, 2007) but affects girls most profoundly.
  • Girls and boys experience differential access to technical and vocational education - In the majority of countries worldwide, young men are more likely than young women to enroll in vocational education, and young men are more likely than young women to graduate from secondary level certification programmes (UNESCO 2010).
  • How about the fraction of children who ever make it to secondary education in Latin America?

In the example of Chile, of those students who enrolled in secondary level technical streams, 82.2% of girls chose a commercial specialization, while 58.5% of boys (and 13.1% of girls) chose the industrial specialization (UNESCO, 2003). In the US, girls are earning high school credits in math and sciences at the same rate as boys, although they take advanced placement exams in STEM-related subjects at a lower rate than boys. At the same time girls are increasingly represented as high achievers in mathematics. Both boys and girls in minority groups, such as African-Americans and Hispanic students, have less access to advanced courses in mathematics and sciences in high school, affecting their representation in STEM related subjects at the tertiary level (AAUW, 2010). These numbers are echoed in other parts of the world.

Although some science courses at the tertiary level see 50% or higher female participation in the Americas, this trend is generally restricted to the biological and life sciences. Participation rates for females in other science and engineering courses remain substantially and consistently less than males throughout the Hemisphere. For example in Brazil, female representation in tertiary level biological, medical and life sciences was an astonishing 70% in 2009, while for engineering and physics, including computer sciences, it was a mere 21% (Abreu, 2011).

Further, despite promising numbers in some countries and in some disciplines at the first degree level, the global trend is for decreasing representation of women as one continues in the field. For example, in India women earned 32 per cent of all first-level degrees and 20 per cent of all third-level degrees in physics, but made up only 11 per cent of professionally-employed physicists (UNESCO, 2010). Data for the region show that some countries show gender parity in S&T research, although most countries show an imbalance in favour of males. For example, in Costa Rica female researchers make up 46.5% of researchers, and men make up 53.5%. In Chile, the percentages are 28% and 73% respectively. On the other hand, in Bolivia they are 67.5 and 32.5% ( Despite these inroads, textbooks used in schools still portray science and technology as male activities. Recent studies in the US show that when children are asked to draw a picture of a scientist, 61% will draw a picture of a (generally Caucasian) male (Schiebinger, 2010).

In its work to improve the level and the relevance of science education in the hemisphere, the IANAS Science Education programme will need to take into account these gender trends in science education and build on existing knowledge and tested strategies to address them.


  • American Assocation of University Women (AAUW). (2010).
  • "Why so Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics." February. Washington: AAUW. Malcom, Shirley. (2010).
  • "How to Reach Out to Girls, Their Families and Communities to Support Involvement in Inquiry-Based Science." Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) for girls. 11-13 May, Pretoria, South Africa. ASSAf. Oliveira, Maria Coleta, Glaucia dos Santos Marcondes, Joice Melo Vieira, Rosário Aparicio. (2011).
  • National Assessments on Gender and STI - Brazil. Women in Global Science and Technology (WISAT), Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD). Schiebinger, Londa, Gender, Science and Technology. In: Background Paper prepared for the UN Expert Meeting on Gender, Science and Technology, September 28 - October 1, Paris. 2010. UNCTAD (2011).
  • Applying a Gender Lens to Science, Technology and Innovation, Geneva. UNESCO (2003).
  • Gender and Education for All: The Leap to Equality. Paris: UNESCO. UNESCO (2007).
  • Science, Technology, and Gender: An International Report. Paris: UNESCO. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) (2010). Global Education Digest 2010. Montreal.


  • Five Myths about Girls and Science

    1. From the time they start school, most girls are less interested in science than boys are.

    2. Classroom interventions that work to increase girls' interest in STEM run the risk of turning off the boys. 

    3. Science and math teachers are no longer biased toward their male students. 

    4. When girls just aren't interested in science, parents can't do much to motivate them.

    5. At the college level, changing the STEM curriculum runs the risk of decreasing the quality of coursework.
  • Why Girls Leave Science and Math - Confidence, Says Psychologist

    Most parents and many teachers believe that if middle-school and high-school girls show no interest in science or math, there's little anyone can do about it but new research indicates that self-confidence instilled by parents and teachers is more important for young girls than their initial interest.

  • Math, Science, and Girls: Can We Close the Gender Gap?

    Although the gender gap has narrowed over the years, boys continue to outperform girls on standardized tests of math and science achievement. At the same time, girls' attitudes about math and science have become more negative. Many girls feel that they are not good at math and science and say that they do not like these subjects.hese trends are troubling because girls' grades in math and science classrooms, which are often equal to or better than those of boys, do not tend to translate to standardized test results. In high school girls are more likely than boys to opt out of advanced math and science. As a result, girls are often less prepared for certain academic disciplines, limiting both their college major and career choices. The question is: Why do we see these differences?


  • How to Reach Out to Girls, Their Families and Communities to Support Involvement in Inquiry- Based Science

    Shirley Malcom, Director, Education and Human Resources, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

  • Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) for Girls

    The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in partnership with the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) and the Third World Organisation for Women in Science (TWOWS), and with funding from the InterAcademy Panel (IAP) hosted a workshop on Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) for girls on 11-13 May 2010. Workshop participants explored, reflected and deliberated on research findings on Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) for girls.

    K-12 Engineering Education – Fall Issue of The Bridge
    Published by the National Academies of Science. Fall 2009 Issue.

  • Inquiry-Based Science Education: increasing participation of girls in science in sub-Saharan Africa

    A product of the workshop on Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) organized by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in partnership with NASAC, the Organisation of Women Scientists for the Developing World (OWSDW) and the Gender Advisory Board of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) in Pretoria, in May 2010. The policymakers’ booklet aims to promote Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) as a pedagogical method for teaching science and especially as a way to encourage girls to enjoy science. In IBSE, learners are encouraged to learn through exploring, discovery and investigation, and there is a connection between the process of learning and the learner’s home environment in a way that children are able to identify with the learning process.

  • Promoting Science Participation through Garden Explorations

    An inquiry-based program, Garden Explorations focuses on promoting science participation by girls, as well as providing professional development opportunities for teachers and pre-service teachers. By involving girls, their families, and teachers in hands-on, inquiry-based science activities, Garden Explorations supports and encourages participants' interest in science (particularly life sciences and ecology).

  • After-School Science PLUS (AS+)

    Developed by Educational Equity Concepts (EEC) with funding from the National Science Foundation Program for Gender Equity. An inquiry-based science program for use in afterschool centers serving students aged 6-14. The "PLUS" in this program includes diverse role models and career education materials as well as connections to literacy activities, all designed to expand student perception about who can do science. AS+ includes eleven core activities that focus on inquiry-based science and literacy-through-science. It uses simple materials that are low-cost or free, readily available, and culturally familiar.

    The structure of AS+ is designed to have a strong equity focus:

    • Provides positive role models of female and male scientists from diverse racial/ethnic groups.
    • Presents ideas about careers in science, math, and technology.
    • Dispels stereotypes about who can do science; and creates opportunities for students to see science as part of their everyday experiences.
  • EngineerGirl

    The EngineerGirl website is designed to bring national attention to the exciting opportunities that engineering represents for girls and women. It is a service of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and grew out of the work of the NAE Committee on the Diversity of the Engineering Workforce. Includes a section of Interviews with female engineers in the USA.


    Arithmetics Science Technology e-Learning (ASTEL) University of Helsinki, the LUMA Centre and the Department of Applied Sciences of Education. In the ASTEL project both a modern technology-rich learning environment and educational research as well as experimental approaches are utilised.

  • Science Now: A Renewed Pedagogy for the Future of Europe

    Expert report which examines a cross-section of on-going initiatives in Europe and draws out elements of know-how and good practice that could bring about a radical change in young people's interest in science studies - and to identify the necessary pre-conditions. Includes results of inquiry-based science education projects which have benefitted girls.

  • Science 4 U

    A week long event organised by St Josephs college in collaboration with Bradford University (UK). This initiative works with Setpoint West Yorkshire and local utilities companies to help raise girls' interest in science and related careers. Students have problems to solve, and at the end of the week collect their information and present their results to people from industry.

  • Science and Engineering in the environment

    A collaborative project between Gravesend Grammar School for Girls (UK), a specialist engineering college, a specialist maths and ICT college and partner schools in Germany (Hamburg). Our girls will develop a set of experiments/monitoring to be done on the environment. These will be developed into a monitoring station by the Engineering College. The data produced will be processed by the Maths/ICT College. Our partners in Germany will develop the science and engineering aspects with us, and we will design (and build) common apparatus and compare results over time. The project will culminate in a series of exchange visits between the English schools and the German schools, with presentations to the respective school populations at each other schools. If successful, we plan to develop the idea into an annual activity, as well as look at other countries and opportunities for collaboration.

  • Co-LAB (natural sciences and biology in secondary schools)

    In the Co-Lab (Collaborative Laboratories for Europe) project a new type of learning environment is created that helps learners to develop flexible knowledge in science domains, skills to collect and synthesise information and to collaborate with others. This learning environment brings together, in an integrated way, facilities for experimentation (including remote laboratories), collaboration, and domain modelling.



  • Enquiry-based science education is the way forward

    The Chilean Academy of Sciences and the University of Chile have developed a national programme which now reaches 90,000 schoolchildren in 260 schools — where children now overwhelmingly choose science as their favourite subject. The CAS now leads the IAP science education activities taking place across Africa and Latin America, with more planned in Asia and the Caribbean.

  • SCIENTIX - The Community for Science Education in Europe

    Scientix - the community for science education in Europe was created to facilitate regular dissemination and sharing of know-how and best practices in science education across the European Union. Scientix is open for teachers, researchers, policy makers, local actors, parents and anyone interested in science education. It collects teaching materials and research reports from European science education projects financed by the European Union under the 6th and 7th Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development (Directorate General Research), the Lifelong Learning Programme (Directorate General Education and Culture) and various national initiatives.

    GRID Network – Growing Interest in the Development of Teaching Science - The GRID project, funded within the framework of the EU Socrates Programme, has the objective of creating a network for the exchange of good practice in the field of science teaching in Europe, at the level of decision makers and of schools directly involved in innovation and experimentation in the broad area of science education (including technology and mathematics). The GRID project aims to identify as many innovative projects as possible, but it relies on individuals involved in these projects detailing the innovative projects involved.


*Document Updated: December 2013