Girls feel less capable than children when it comes to reaching goals that require scientific skills, according to the latest PISA report from 2015 provided to EL PAÍS by the Gender Equality Unit. Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MEFP). This lack of confidence, called self-efficacy in science, is common in most OECD countries. In Spain, the greatest differences between students occur in Catalonia and Valencia while the lowest, although statistically significant, are observed in the communities of Cantabria, Castilla y León and Castilla la Mancha.
Students with little confidence in themselves run the risk of getting worse results in science despite their abilities, according to psychologist Albert Bandura. This trend is reflected in the PISA report, since in Spain, boys, in addition to having more confidence in themselves, achieve better results than girls in this area.
The OECD performs the PISA test for 15-year-old students to measure their skills in science, mathematics and reading. But biases about girls' abilities start much earlier. In an investigation published in 2017 in the magazine Science, children were asked if, when they were told about a particularly intelligent person, they thought it was their sex or the opposite. When the children were five years old, no differences were observed, however, starting at age six, the probability that the girls considered that the bright person was of their sex descended.
The proportion of girls in the scientific Baccalaureate has decreased slightly since 2012
Self-efficacy in science has been related by experts not only to the performance of the students, but also to their professional orientation and their choice of courses. "Girls in general have lower self-efficacy in science, practice less scientific activities in their free time and see themselves when they are older working in technological fields less than boys", explains Montserrat Grañeras, head of the Equality Unit of the MEFP.
In the OECD only 5.2% of girls compared to 12% of boys expect to work in science and engineering. There are also fewer women who want to dedicate themselves to information and communication technologies (0.4% girls versus 4.7% boys); and above all, in Spain (1% of students versus 7% of students). Grañeras emphasizes that the lack of interest of girls "is not so much towards science in general as towards technology". Proof of this is that in the country, 19.8% of girls expect to work in health sciences, compared to 6.9% in boys.
The PISA report reveals that in all countries children participate more frequently in scientific activities, that is, they watch programs, read books or visit websites. According to experts, differences in interest in a given topic can be derived from the differences in opportunities to access the activity. It also influences the support received so that this initial attraction becomes a more stable motivation.
The first asymmetry
"The first moment in which the students take a massive election around the scientific thing is in Baccalaureate or when choosing the Basic Vocational Training, that is within the Compulsory Secondary Education. There you can see the first asymmetry, "he says. 46.6% of the students who choose the scientific Baccalaureate are girls compared to 53.4% of the boys, according to figures from Equality Space of the MEFP. This figure contrasts with other modalities such as Art, in which 67% are women, or Humanities, with 62.4%. In addition, the proportion of girls studying the scientific Baccalaureate has experienced a slight progressive decline since 2012. In that year 46.6% of students were girls compared to 45.7 in 2016. "This decrease is not significant, but it is it is the consolidation of this phenomenon not only in recent years but in decades, "says Grañeras.
Girls are the majority in the professional cycles of Chemistry and Health
The difference between boys and girls is more pronounced in Basic Vocational Training. Only 17.8% of women choose the training cycles of Computing and Communications. This trend continues in the same cycles of Middle Grade and Upper Grade, where only one in ten students is a woman. On the contrary, girls are the majority in the Chemistry cycles (56.1% in the Middle Grade and 50.2% in the Superior) and Health (72.3% in the Middle Grade and 73.7%). % in the Superior).
At the University, the trend is similar in both the choice of degrees and masters. Only 14.7% of the students who start Computer Engineering and 30.5% of those who choose the Engineering, Industry and Construction degrees are women. Meanwhile, they are the majority in the careers of Science (53.5%) and Health and Social Services (72.1%) are the majority.
Once they finish their studies, they also there is a glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching the highest positions. This is due among other reasons the problems of family and work conciliation, the obstacles so that your work is recognized and the difficulty in obtaining financing for their projects. This lack of confidence that the PISA report already detects in 15 year olds can also be affect women scientists throughout their professional careers. "Women can have a perception of what they are capable of doing differently from men. The models of power and of great scientists have been mostly men. That is going to change because society is changing, "concludes Grañeras.
The lack of vocation of women in scientific careers is due, in part, according to Grañeras, to the lack of role models. In Spain there are several projects to increase girls' self-esteem and professional ambition. For example, the initiative February 11 aims to promote the organization of activities and materials that commemorate the International Day of Women and the girl in Science in Spain. The Ministry is also taking measures: "The preliminary draft of the law in which it is working includes new aspects that had never been included in an Organic Law on Education, such as including a gender perspective in professional academic guidance."
To change the situation, he says, it is essential to "dismantle stereotypes in schools to bring girls to the technological and tell the reality." The MEFP and the Education Council of the Basque Government have organized a meeting with girls and young people under the theme "Girls in the standing of science. Awakening scientific vocations in young girls ". This event will be attended by the Minister of Education and Vocational Training, Isabel Celaá, and the Minister of Education of the Basque Country, Cristina Uriarte. In addition, on March 7 will take place the act "Classrooms for equality" at the headquarters of the Ministry, in Madrid, and will be chaired by Celáa.