50 Years of Children Drawing Scientists
The results of a research conducted some decades ago indicated a startling bias: 99.4 percent of the drawings depicted a male scientist, a finding that was shocking to the participants. Only 28 female scientists were depicted in the 5,000 drawings that were collected between 1966 and 1977, and all of them were made by female artists.
As a result of this experiment, approximately 80 studies have replicated it with more than 20,000 children across all grade levels, and the results of all of these investigations were analyzed in a meta-analysis released last year.
THE META-ANALYSIS REVEALS 3 IMPORTANT FINDINGS
1. Female scientists are more frequently depicted in children’s drawings: More than 1 percent of the drawings received from boys and girls during the original 11-year study were depictions of female scientists, according to the researchers. According to the meta-analysis, this figure increased over time, reaching an average of “28 percent in later studies” in later studies.
Women are mostly responsible for the shift: Women, in particular, began to draw female scientists more frequently. In the original survey, only 1.2 percent of girls were assigned to scientists who were female; this proportion grew to 33 percent in 1985 and then to 58 percent in 2016—a significant increase over males, who are still assigned to scientists who are male nearly nine out of ten times.
The proportion of students who draw a male scientist is calculated as follows:
3. As students grow older, they are more likely to sketch masculine scientists, including Approximately the same number of male and female scientists are drawn by children in kindergarten; however, girls tend to draw more female scientists, while boys prefer to draw more male scientists. Male scientists outnumber female scientists four to one by the time pupils reach high school, according to a study conducted by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). It is especially noticeable among girls: when asked to draw a scientist, seventy percent of 6-year-old girls sketch a woman, whereas only twenty-five percent of 16-year-old females do the same.
The general shift in how children portray scientists corresponds to a bigger shift in the proportion of women entering science-related careers. In 2015, according to data from the National Science Foundation, women accounted for 48 percent of biological, agricultural, and environmental life scientists, a significant increase from their proportion of 34 percent in 1993. Compared to other occupations, women’s representation in science and engineering has increased more slowly, from 22.9 percent in 1993 to 28.4 percent in 2015.
Teachers have an essential role to play in encouraging youngsters, particularly girls, to pursue a career in the scientific field. “Girls may avoid activities that they consider appropriate for boys but not for girls,” according to David Miller and his colleagues on the meta-analysis. Everything from the language used by a teacher to the decorations on the walls of a classroom can send subtle messages to students about the roles of men and women in science.
What is the significance of this? This is because “stereotypes connecting science with men may hinder girls’ interest in science-related activities and jobs,” according to the researchers’ conclusions. In a world where females do not perceive themselves as scientists, it is more probable that they will not see themselves as scientists in the future.
6 SUGGESTIONS FOR INCREASING A SENSE OF INCLUSION IN THE ARTS AND SCIENCES
a. Use an array of posters and other classroom decorations to create interest: According to a 2014 study, the symbolic aspects of a classroom, such as photos of scientists posted on the walls, indicate students “if they are respected learners and feel like they belong within the classroom environment.” The fact that students do not see themselves represented in classroom materials has “far-reaching ramifications” for the decisions they make in school, such as whether or not to pursue advanced science classes. Decorations should reflect the diversity of pupils in terms of gender, ethnicity, and interests.
2. Encourage the publication of books that feature girls and women: According to a 2018 study, male scientists are shown three times more frequently in children’s scientific books than female scientists. Not only were women underrepresented, but their contributions were minimized as well; books frequently showed them in a way that said they were “passive, lower status, and superficial,” according to the authors. To overcome this, teachers might purposefully distribute books that contain role models for girls and women in science.
3. Inviting guest lecturers and role models: According to a 2018 study conducted in the United Kingdom, girls who have a role model are more likely to be interested in, and pursue, a career in the sciences. In addition, teachers can arrange for female scientists to talk to their students in person or by videoconference, or they can assign students to do interviews with scientists in their local community.
4. Be aware of gender bias in language: According to a study conducted in 2016, the words we use can promote gender stereotypes. It has been shown that referring to males as “future scientists” and girls as “future female scientists” can lower girls’ perception of science as a suitable vocation for them. In addition, according to a 2018 assessment on makerspaces, instructors tended to employ terminology such as “geeks,” “builders,” and “designers” for male students while referring to female students as “girls” or “helpers” instead. Using language like that “influenced attitudes and activities within the makerspaces,” making it less likely that girls would occupy leadership positions while allowing guys to play a larger role in guiding group decisions, according to the researchers.
Girls as young as 6 years old are likely to categorize more males than females in the category of “very, really brilliant,” and they shun activities that they consider to be for smart kids, according to a study conducted in 2017. Teachers can counteract this by emphasizing that intellect is not fixed and that all children can increase their abilities as they progress through school. The kids might investigate how the data on math and science achievement challenges the prevalent prejudices about males and girls as a part of their investigation.
6. Avoid anxiety transfer: According to a 2018 study, teachers may unintentionally convey their arithmetic anxiety to their students. Consequently, they communicate the notion that “not everyone can be good at mathematics.” According to a study conducted in 2010, girls are particularly prone to arithmetic anxiety caused by their teachers. The greater the level of anxiety instructors had about math, the more probable it was for girls to believe that “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading,” and the lower their arithmetic achievement was in the subject. High expectations, combined with instructional practices that placed an emphasis on learning rather than memorization and competence, assisted pupils in developing a more positive attitude toward mathematics.