The STEM Passport for Inclusion contributes to the achievements of equality and diversity in STEM careers by supporting and promoting STEM education and careers to SocioEconomically Disadvantaged (SED) girls across Ireland. By 2030, there will be 6.2 million new STEM jobs worldwide unfilled – and only 2% of graduates will have the right qualifications for these roles. Furthermore, 80% of all future jobs will require basic digital skills even if they are not in the STEM arena. Hence, being STEM prepared is essential for participation in society. This potential skills crisis is frightening from both a social and demographic perspective; it not only adversely impacts the economy, but it threatens to widen the opportunity gap between those who are affluent in society, and those who are not. With SED girls least likely to enter STEM courses and pursue STEM careers, there is a very real risk that they will be left out of the 21stcentury job market if current trends are not reversed. This will mean that women from SED communities will be more likely to end up in low-paid, low-potential jobs and remain entrenched in poverty due to a lack of STEM opportunities.
In Ireland, there are striking gender imbalances in STEM subject choices made by boys and girls at the postprimary level. The trend is overwhelmingly for boys to select physical science and technology subjects, with girls outnumbering boys in biology. Females are also under-represented in higher education STEM courses. According to the Central Statistics Office (2018), the number of STEM graduates in Ireland was 32.7 per 1,000 persons aged 20-29 in 2017, the highest rate in the EU28. Yet, Ireland also had the highest gender differential in STEM graduates in the EU28, with 46.0 male graduates and 19.4 female graduates per 1,000 persons aged 20-29. It is likely that subject selection at Leaving Certificate is one of several factors contributing to the under-representation of women in STEM-related careers. In 2019, 55.7% of all-girls secondary schools offered STEM related subjects — other than maths or science — compared to 95% of all-boys secondary schools offering the same subjects for the state exam. Additionally, only 77% of all-girls schools offered physics, chemistry, and biology for the Leaving Cert, while 92% of all-boys schools across the country supply all three. And, despite significant national interventions, we still have a huge gender gap in STEM participation.
Why consider gender and class together
When we consider socio-economic status, we see further disparities. Students attending DEIS schools have lower levels of science literacy according to comparisons with the OECD averages and non-DEIS schools in 2018. For example, DEIS schools had an average science score (465.0) that was significantly lower than the corresponding OECD average (488.7). Students in non-DEIS schools had an average science score (506.0) that was significantly above the OECD average. With a mean score of 465.0, the average science performance of students attending DEIS schools was significantly — and substantially — lower than the average of students in non-DEIS schools (mean score 506.0). The difference between the two amounts to 41 score points which is equivalent to two-fifths of an international standard deviation. Furthermore, the percentage of low-achieving students in science (i.e., achieving scores below Level 2) is higher in DEIS schools (28.2%) compared to non-DEIS schools (13.5%), while only a small percentage (3.1%) of students in DEIS schools reached the highest levels of achievement in science (at or above Level 5). The corresponding percentage in non-DEIS schools was 6.7%. We also see that the access routes that are currently in place to support participation of disadvantaged students in universities are not having equal impact across the genders. Recent HEA data shows that only 38% of young women use the HEAR scheme to access STEM university courses
How we do it
- We have developed a university qualification in partnership with the Microsoft Dreamspace team through Maynooth University and Munster Technological University which sits on the national framework as a level 6, 5-credit module entitled Introduction to 21st Century STEM skills. This has been rolled out to 1250 girls in schools across Munster and Leinster and is increasing young women’s access to STEM knowledge.
- We have developed a ‘mentoring for equality’ digital badge through the National forum for teaching and learning, with 165 women working in the STEM industry completing the module through mentoring the girls and acting as strong, female role models. By educating the girls and the women who work in STEM, we are ensuring that we are using a system thinking approach to change, by removing the focus from the girls themselves, and ensuring the workplace is ready to support diverse women to become the leaders of the future.
- We have developed a STEM Resource which provides a students, teachers, and employees access all the STEM opportunities that are relevant to them. Aligning with Strategy
Impact of the STEM Passport
Since 2021 1250 girls from 38 schools have participated in the programme. They completed research pre and post participation.
Changes in STEM Intentions and Confidence Pre and Post Participation
To establish the impact of the STEM Passport for Inclusion, paired sample t-tests were employed to examine changes in self-reported ratings of intention to study STEM and work in STEM, and confidence to study STEM and confidence to work in STEM. Results show that the STEM Passport is positively impacting students’ STEM Aspirations and STEM Confidence; there was significant increases from time one (pre STEMP) to time two (post STEMP) on all four rating scales (P<.05). There was also a significant increase in students’ self-reported knowledge of what STEM is (45%-95%), their plans to study STEM (40%-80%), and knowing a woman who worked in STEM (28%-92%).
- 76% of students said they are now considering a career in STEM due to participating in the STEM Passport for Inclusion
- 95% of students said that the mentors had changed their view of STEM
- 79% of students said they were now considering studying a STEM subject
“I really enjoyed learning how to code with python, it was new and different. My favourite part was talking to the mentors. I learned a lot from her and it was great fun.” Student
“I wanted to share a highlight from me from a parent from St. Mary's Secondary School, Mallow, Co. Cork last week whose daughter had very little interest in STEM before the programme and now has her No.1 preference on her CAO form Engineering in UCD. Great impactful story…(Teacher)
Next Steps of STEM Passport for Inclusion
In the next phase of the STEM Passport for Inclusion, we want to build on the success of the first two year and harness the skills we have developed-reaching out to those communities that remain underserved and on the outskirts. Through an in-depth analysis of the schools that we have engaged with in year one and two — and the impact of the first phase of this project — we have observed that there are still specific schools and students which are not engaging with this work. Schools often ‘select’ students to participate in outreach programmes like ours, deciding who STEM might suit, these decisions are often based on the student’s interest or how good they are in school or their behaviour. This results in further inequality within the system. Some DEIS girls get chosen over others to participate- leaving STEM engagement to those who are deemed ‘good enough’. The research also reveals that there is a large gap in the DEIS Transition Year programme; with access to work experience, internships, and opportunities often limited to who you know or your family network, many girls do not get the chance to engage in different jobs, they do not get to meet women in different professions. There is a gap in the Transition Year programme in DEIS school in terms of a formal STEM programme which can provide ALL working-class girls with the opportunity to fully understand how and where they can fit in the STEM workforce. Our vision for the next three years is to reach out to all four provinces of Ireland and work with every TY girl in every DEIS school. Through this formalized, structured programme, we aim to: enable 5000 girls to graduate from a university in their province with a university accredited qualification in STEM skills, to provide these 5000 girls with a meaningful relationship with a women working in STEM who can support their STEM confidence and STEM capabilities, and to build more equitable practices within the STEM Industry by providing men and women who work with our students with the opportunity to graduate from the linked university with a micro-credential, a level 9 award, in mentoring for STEM equity. Our programme is underpinned by a digital platform which connects the young women with Industry and Education activities, tracking their development through a longitudinal research programme. This, in turn, allows them to take STEM trainings remotely and provides them with access to STEM career, college advice, and information.
National Policy Impact
Our plan to move this programme to a national initiative is supported by the inclusion of the STEM Passport for Inclusion in the recently published recommendations for the STEM Implementation plan 2022-2026. Our vision for 2023-2026 is to deliver this programme nationwide, extending the impact on women and girls in STEM by adding a 3 year longitudinal research programme. The programme’s purpose is to track the girls’ experiences and outcomes- establishing their journey from TY, the STEM Passport, and examining how transformed STEM intentions and STEM confidence translate into real life STEM work and college outcomes. As it currently stands, there are 187 postprimary DEIS school, with 5000 girls participating in TY each year, across the four provinces. Our vision is to reach all these girls.
The STEM Passport is built on strategic partnership across Industry and Education; Microsoft Ireland (Education and Dreamspace), Accenture, RDI Hub, Prodigy Learning, Munster Technological University, Teen Turn and Mercy Inchicore worked together to develop and deliver the programme. Funded by these partners and the SFI Discover award, the programme has been able to harness the power of Industry to ensure the content of the qualification meets the basic STEM skills required for career progression. Through the mentoring programme, we have built a network of 125 STEM women who now know how to mentor for equality and see the value of diversity in STEM. Through a combination of time, vision, and funding, we have built a systems approach to change which has all partners facing in the same direction- recognizing the value that diverse girls can bring to the STEM revolution.
The STEM Passport.inc is all abut collaboration while Dr Katriona O’Sullivan is leading the project we collaborate across Industry and Education. we work with Dr Kevin Marshall of Microsoft Education Ireland and adjunct ALL Institute, Teen-Turn, Liam Cronin in RDI HUB , Paula Neary in Accenture, Michelle O’ Kelly Principal of Mercy Inchicore Secondary school and Helena McMahon of Munster Technological University.
STEM Passport Inc. is externally funded by Science Foundation Ireland Discover grant and funded by Microsoft Ireland, Accenture, the RDI Hub.
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