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Female science and mathematics teachers: Better than they think?

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This article was first published on April 22, 2021, on the UNESCO website.

On 22 April, on the occasion of International Girls in ICT Day, the importance of engaging girls and young women all around the world to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has been highlighted.

More urgently than ever before, more girls and women are needed in STEM. In over two-thirds of education systems, less than 25% of students in engineering, manufacturing, construction, or information and communication technologies (ICT) are women. Yet STEM careers are growing in demand, and needed to solve the current challenges facing the world including COVID-19, climate change and food and water security.

Considering this urgency, UNESCO and the International Association of the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) investigated how teacher self-efficacy and gender are related in mathematics and science teaching in a special issue of the IEA Compass: Briefs in Education Series.

Using data from IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015, the brief explores the relationship between teachers’ gender and learners’ mathematics and science achievement and how female teachers’ self-efficacy relates to job satisfaction. The brief also discusses implications for teaching and suggests actions to address gender gaps.

Female teachers have been associated with improved educational experiences and enhanced learning outcomes for girls in some contexts. By acting as positive role models for girls, female teachers are found to effectively dispel myths about innate abilities among boys and improve girls’ perceptions, interest, and self-efficacy in STEM. Yet, the latest brief suggests that lower self-efficacy of female science and mathematics teachers may affect girls’ own self-efficacy in these subjects, and their pursuit of STEM careers.

“At my school, female teachers are well represented in STEM subjects, but I was unaware that they could experience lower self-efficacy than men”, says Tanja Neuschmidt, a mathematics and chemistry teacher at the Heinrich-Hertz-Schule in Hamburg, Germany, on her perceptions of gender in teaching.

“As a teacher, I see girls and boys demonstrating different attitudes in mathematics and chemistry subjects, with girls feeling less confident than boys in these subjects”, she said. “I did not expect that this could be linked to teachers' self-esteem.” Tanja is keen to discuss the findings of this brief with her peers to encourage more girls to build self-confidence and to value their success in STEM fields as they explore their future careers.

Read the brief for the full findings across different countries.

Photo: UNESCO/Maina WaGioko