‘Trend analysis: Gender in STEM education’

2 August 2016

By Cocky Booy, Noortje Jansen, Gertje Joukes and Esther van Schaik

The Netherlands: VHTO (National Expert Organisation on Girls / Women and Science / Technology).

Read the report here.


This National Expert Organisation on Girls / Women and Science / Technology (VHTO) has gathered evidence on the participation of girls with STEM in the Netherlands. This report examines the extent to which STEM education is gendered. Globally, it is acknowledged that women are underrepresented within STEM education and careers. The Netherlands has ranked particularly low in gender parity across STEM related professions.

Research findings show that there is only small differences in maths and science ability levels between young boys and girls. Attitudes amongst girls suggest that they are less likely to believe they are capable of success within science subjects, while boys are more confident in their abilities. As a result, girls are likely to underperform in these subjects as they progress through their education – girls are likely to discontinue with science education when they reach the age of 14. PISA data from 2006 and 2009 shows that the scores for Dutch girls in maths and physics are declining. The data shows that this emerging ‘gender gap’ in academic STEM performance does not exist in all countries; evidence that girls do have the aptitude and ability to compete at the same level as boys. The gap exists due to difference in attitudes and confidence levels. Finland ranks highly, with girls out-performing boys and high participation in STEM careers – in Finland there is a close collaboration between education, higher education and science centres.

Gendered stereotypes are common amongst the Dutch population. Results of an association test indicate that science is highly linked to masculinity. Such attitudes can have negative implications upon education, as the content and teaching methods may be geared toward male audiences. Attitude tests revealed that Dutch girls are less likely to perceive science subjects as useful to their future, thus not as motivated as their male counterparts to achieve. The role of teachers and educators is crucial in encouraging female engagement with STEM.

A barrier for young girls contemplating STEM is a clear lack of female role models within the field. Lack of female representation within associated professions means that girls may view careers with an additional challenge of having to prove oneself in being ‘one of the guys’. The authors suggest teachers provide role models for young girls, who can provide authentic and realistic images of their careers with the aim of increasing motivation to study maths and science. The report provides guidance on how to increase and maintain girls’ interest in STEM:

  • Step 1: awaken interest in the last 4 years of primary education
  • Step 2: retain the interest of girls through company visits
  • Step 3: support girls in choosing a subject cluster, e.g. through speed dating and providing parents with information
  • Step 4: support girls in choosing a study programme, e.g. through speed dating, work shadowing or mentoring.

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