Gender balance programme goes global

Australian teachers Jens Boernemeyer and Nicole Dobson from Melbourne's Mt Alexander College have travelled across the globe to witness Education Scotland's groundbreaking work in Improving Gender Balance & Equalities (IGBE).

It was during research for his PhD on 'Women in STEM' that Jens first read about Education Scotland's involvement in a 3-year pilot project to look at the effects of gender on subject uptake and career choice, particularly in relation to STEM.

Jens and Nicole were keen to learn more on how the pilot's recommendations to tackle gender bias and improve participation in STEM learning were being rolled out in a programme across Scotland's schools and Early Learning Childhood Centres.

They applied for fellowship funding from their school to enable them to visit Scotland, arriving this week to meet the IGBE team and see the programme in action.

Careers Coordinator Jens said: 'Education Scotland's work highlights that any interventions to address gender balance need to start at an early age so children have consistency throughout their schooling, developed from nursery through to primary and secondary.

'It's been great to see how passionate staff are about implementing the programme, and we're keen to take that back to Mt Alexander College to change how STEM is delivered to assist students in their own development.'

The teachers visited Glasgow's Shaw Mhor Early Years Centre where 3-year-olds were being taught about loans and running a business, being loaned £1 to buy a business then paying back the loan once it got profitable.

Photo (left to right): Hazel Gardner, Mark Irwin, Nicole Dobson, Jens Boernemeyer,

Hannah Brown, Margaret Craw, Ian Menzies, Barbara Morton (Scottish Government).

They were also impressed that pupils at Pitteuchar East Primary School in Glenrothes had good awareness of what engineering was, responding that it was about problem solving and operations.

Science Faculty Leader Nicole has experience of being the only female student in maths and physics classes so knows the importance of ensuring barriers don't exist.

Nicole said: 'It was interesting to visit Woodmill High School in Dunfermline to hear the views of girls who had previously been put in all-girl groups, and how that had made them feel. It was great to see them being encouraged to speak up about problems they encountered.

'One girl said she'd have dropped out of school if not for the chance to get involved in new opportunities. Now, she's able to harness her high energy levels and get involved in challenging projects such as a competition to design a plane using coding and design.

'As a teacher I've seen pupils finding it hard to focus because they feel that they're in the wrong environment, so it was wonderful to see the pupils really engaged in the project.'

The Improving Gender Balance Scotland pilot was an innovative partnership between Skills Development Scotland, the Institute of Physics and Education Scotland.

Under the Scottish Government STEM Education and Training Strategy, there is an ambition to roll out the learnings from the pilot to every school in Scotland by 2022. Education Scotland will lead this phase.