Topic 1

Attracting Girls into Physics

Issues: stereotypes, role models, schools, teachers.

A) Problems with parents

How to motivate parents into sending girl children to schools, to better schools, to spend money on their education?

To see girls as potential careerists, not just home-makers.

To see education not just as route to marriage?

Science versus humanities. Why are more girls encouraged to study humanities by parents? To emphasize importance of science education for all, problem solving training, scientific approach.

Possible solutions: Counseling for parents in schools?

B) Problems with society

Women's independence and career not taken very seriously, secondary to the husband's career, therefore better to train for softer options?

Even within science, why biology is preferred to physics?

More girls in biology, enroute to medicine, seen as desirable career for women.

Positive perceptions of women as doctors, so potential good students go to biology.

Very recent trend towards maths and physics even for girls, enroute to careers in

information technology again seen as desirable. Is it global or only in particular countries? Engineering careers seen as undesirable everywhere?

Special third world problems:

Gradual increase in women in sciences, and physics, over the years, mainly in the information technology industry in past 10 years or so, but not seen in academics, because of low prestige associated with teaching and academic careers, low-paying

No clear perception of what scientists do (general problem for boys too)

C) Problems with teachers and in schools

Teachers perceptions and prejudices. Many teachers including women dismissive of girls abilities, maths and physics perceived as hard, why study hard because softer options like humanities available which fit in with society's expectations from them?

Main need - teacher training to remove their own prejudices.

Do girls need counseling, particularly in higher classes to maintain their interests and not fall in with societal expectations?

Why do more girls opt for humanities than sciences? More for biology than physics or maths? What about the self-assessment of girls?

Do they themselves perceive themselves as less able at young ages?

Co-ed schools have better teachers, but drawback, do women tend to become less assertive? Will parents hesitate to send girls to co-ed schools?

What about attitudes of boys in the class? Do boys see them as dumber? More bookish, less independent and able to think? Does this affect their self-image and confidence?

Physics not well-taught.

Private coaching for physics and maths because school teaching is not good enough, mostly for boys because more expensive? Often boys are forced to try harder by family and society, because of the perception that they are the bread-winners and need more paying jobs.

More peer pressure on boys to do well (perhaps more of a third world


Physics and maths books, unimaginative, and boring, irrelevant to their experiences,

are they sexist also ? Does that influence girls?

Curriculum and exam systems, boring and memory-oriented, school syllabus needs to be made more relevant, exam system needs to be revamped (general for boys and girls, perhaps more so in third world countries).

Will having more debates, quizes, etc, encourage independent thinking? Encourage assertiveness among girls?

D) Role models

Not many women in higher positions? Is it a problem at all?

At school level, many physics teachers women, often better than men teachers, because good men don't come into school teaching.

Are school teachers the primary role model? How do their perceptions affect the next generation?

Teaching is seen as women's role, but not high profile. Will it help to have women in high profile positions, women scholars go to schools, give seminars and talks to the girls?

E) Third world problems

General lack of money for education for all, science education in

particular, and for research and academics.

No labs, so difficult to motivate students in general into physics

Research and science not made interesting, not relevant to life, no experiments, no hands-on experience. Would having science museums help?

Low glamour for academic and teaching jobs, leads to poor teachers. Help by increasing pay? short-term schools for teacher training?

Very large classes, so no scope to interact with students and encourage and motivate good students, need more schools, smaller classes, is it economically feasible in poorer countries?

High paying IT jobs have increased womens participation in science in the last decade, if not in research. Is this success?, have many reached the top?

F) Possible resolutions for the meeting in Paris

a) Generally, more money for science teaching, especially at lower levels, need to recognise future potential of having scientifically literate population

Incentives for teachers in schools, increases in pay, summer schools and training programmes for teachers, glamourise or positive projection of school teachers, perhaps using the popular medium of TV, so as to get more talent into the teaching profession, sensitise teachers to sexist issues and teach them to be attentive to girls and boys and encourage students of both sexes.

Infra-structural problems, more labs, create interest in physics, have science museums, allow children hands-on experience, make sure girls also involved by involving parents of the girl-child, if necessary.

b) Recognise role of parents and teachers in encouraging girls into scientific careers and physics careers and set up ways of counseling them.

c)Recognise problems faced by girls to pursue education in general and physics in particular, special incentives, scholarships, for girls doing well from schools, state, etc.

d) Recognition and awards for women in physics, particularly in

teaching to motivate next generation of girls.

Text for Reading: