Thursday, 4 October 2012

It's Different for Girls

This is a sponsored post but, quite frankly, I'd be writing it anyway. The Institute of Physics has just launched a campaign to promote physics to young girls. Why? Because in almost half of UK secondary schools last year there were no girls - not one - doing A level physics. The statistics for girls' schools are slightly better: there are more than twice as many girls doing physics to A level in a single sex girls school as in a mixed but the message is still clear: too few girls are getting the opportunity. (You can find out more about the influence of schools in the Institute's report, as well as reading how senior leaders can support girls' take-up of the subject.)

Some might be tempted to ask if that matters. The answer, of course, is yes - a lot. Apart from the overwhelming need in the UK to have this skillset, career choices - and not just those involving wearing a lab coat - are at stake as well as a host of other opportunities and benefits. Physics graduates earn salaries well above average and the subject is useful in a wide variety of careers. Including, apparently, professionaly poker playing:

So what can we do about it? Well, the Institute of Physics has devised a number of strategies to get girls engaged in the subject and has produced this document especially for parents. As the father of a teenage daughter - and one not so far overwhelmed with enthusiasm for the subject - I'll certainly be taking careful note of the advice that it contains (which includes such simple steps as challenging stereotypes and avoiding negative comments such as 'I was terrible at/hated physics when I was at school').

At a time when a university education is becoming more expensive, student debt is growing and graduate career opportunities shrinking, children need to have open access to all their potential educational and employment options. There's no inherent reason why so few girls should be good at physics - girls and boys do equally well at GCSE and as the figures for all-girls' schools show, girls can and do succeed in the subject.

Changing things isn't going to happen quickly, but I'm impressed by the way the Institute of Physics has considered ways in which parents can engage children with a love of science from a young age. And I'm pleased we do a number of these things - such as including a little bit of science into everyday life from telly-watching to cooking to organising days out.

And, of course, sharing inspirational female role-models such as Masterchef finalist and PhD physicist Aki Matsushima and former rhythmic gymnast Liv Boeree shows just what kind of world physicists inhabit beyond the classroom.

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