Attempts to encourage more girls to study the sciences ‘completely deny human biology and nature’, an academic has claimed. Schools should stop trying to close education gender gaps because innate differences between the sexes mean they will always be drawn to certain subjects and careers, according to a Glasgow University psychologist.
Dr Gijsbert Stoet argued that Britain ‘probably needed to give up on the idea that we will get many female engineers or male nurses’. Efforts to tackle gender inequalities were wasted because pupils with an aptitude for subjects such as physics, computing and engineering would choose them anyway, he claimed.
But his remarks, which fly in the face of campaigns by the Government and academic societies, drew a storm of controversy yesterday. The Institute of Physics attacked his position as ‘ridiculous’ and said it denied the strong influences of society and upbringing on women’s study choices.
Dr Stoet said it was ‘really hard’ to attract girls to subjects such as computing, telling the British Education Studies Association in Glasgow: ‘Girls will say, “Well, that’s boring, I’m just not interested in it”. ‘We need to have a national debate on why we find it so important to have equal numbers.
‘Do we really care that only 5 per cent of the programmers are women? … I don’t care who programs my computers. A wealthy, democratic society can afford to let people do what they want. ‘What is better? To have 50 per cent of female engineers who do not really like their work but say, “Yeah, well, I did it for the feminist cause”. Or do you want 3 per cent of female engineers who say “I really like my job”?’
His remarks were reported in the TES teachers’ journal. Dr Stoet went on to question the national focus given to girls’ struggles in subjects such as maths, when boys generally performed worse at school.
‘Nobody seems to be that interested that boys have problems. We have, as human beings, a natural tendency to see women as vulnerable and needing help. But if it’s a boy who needs help, he’s responsible for himself,’ he said.
Dr Stoet’s comments follow the launch of the Government’s Opening Doors campaign to ‘stamp out gender bias’ in schools, which it said is putting girls off taking maths and science A-levels. Education Minister Elizabeth Truss warned that England’s school system was affected by ‘science deserts’, where too few pupils – particularly girls – are taking subjects such as chemistry and physics. At half of mixed state schools, not a single girl is taking physics A-level, she said.
Dr Gijsbert Stoet argued efforts to tackle gender inequalities were wasted because pupils with an aptitude for subjects such as physics, computing and engineering would choose them anyway
In a report last December, the Institute of Physics suggested 49 per cent of state schools were ‘reinforcing gender stereotypes’ in the advice given to pupils about A-levels. The institute’s Clare Thomson said Dr Stoet was implying differences in male and female brains drove subject choices. But evidence suggests that difference within the sexes are bigger than differences between them, she said. ‘Broadly you can say women are more interested in this and men are more interested in that but there’s a huge amount of crossover,’ she added. ‘Just to say, “We should give up on this because that is the way it is”, is ridiculous. It also denies the influences of society and upbringing which we know are incredibly strong. ‘Young people make choices based on the information they have and the advice they have taken.’