Girls in secondary school ‘do not know enough about science careers’

Survey finds almost half of girls in Transition Year have not yet chosen Leaving Cert subjects

Weronika Niemierzycka, Melody McGuirk and Anthea Ring from Rockford Manor Blackrock, Co Dublin at the STEM launch at Accenture The Dock, Dublin. Photograph: Jason Clarke.

Weronika Niemierzycka, Melody McGuirk and Anthea Ring from Rockford Manor Blackrock, Co Dublin at the STEM launch at Accenture The Dock, Dublin. Photograph: Jason Clarke.


Girls in secondary school and their teachers still do not know enough about science and technology subjects and the careers that might be open to them, a new survey has found.

In a survey of more than 2,200 Transition Year students, 59 per cent of girls said they did not know enough about Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths). Nearly half (48 per cent) said they had not yet chosen their Leaving Certificate subjects and 81 per cent said they wanted a job where they could help other people.

Some 93 per cent of teachers said that girls’ belief in their own ability was a major challenge to promoting such subjects in schools.

The survey by the non-profit company I Wish also found nine out of 10 teachers wanted to see workshops for girls to enhance resilience and confidence.

I Wish is an initiative to encourage and motivate young female students to pursue science careers.

The survey, in which 2,241 girls participated, was published on Tuesday as Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched two initiatives for Stem education in Ireland.

These are the fifth annual I Wish showcases, which will take place across four days in Dublin and Cork in February, and DCU’s ‘A World of Opportunities’, a Stem careers guide for parents, teachers and students.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said the need to increase gender diversity in Stem had been widely recognised and that the survey once again highlighted the challenge we faced to help female students build confidence in this area at second-level.

“We need to make more young people aware of the vast learning opportunities and potential careers that exist in Stem. DCU’s ‘World of Opportunities’ careers guide addresses this knowledge gap and will hopefully inspire students across the board to appreciate the exciting options open to them within the Stem field,” the Minister added.

DCU president, Prof Brian MacCraith, said the university’s publication was designed to explain in accessible language the exciting new careers available to those with Stem qualifications.

“The task of selecting a career path in Stem areas can be somewhat daunting to those not familiar with new and evolving terminology. The second purpose of our publication is to highlight, through real examples, female role models in exciting Stem careers. Overall, our aim is to enhance the ‘Stem pipeline’ in Ireland and to move the dial on the gender imbalance issue,” he said.

Co-founder of I Wish, Caroline O’Driscoll, said it was now possible to demonstrate definitively that “the more a girl is exposed to extra-curricular Stem events, the more likely she is to take on related Leaving Cert subjects and college courses”.

“Information and confidence are also key however. We must continuously showcase the opportunities through Stem and build girls confidence in their ability to improve people’s lives through Stem. We need to act now to make a difference,” she said.

Speaking at the launch at Accenture in Dublin, Alastair Blair, country managing director at Accenture in Ireland, said traditionally Ireland had had access to deep skills and the availability of a young, highly educated and exceptionally adaptable workforce.

He said collective work was needed across government, academia and industry “to further accelerate a profound change to our education system and to double down on areas such as Stem at a time when there is an ever increasing demand for a strong, diverse pipeline of skills”.