Inspired women in science take a stand against gender inequality

Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals: despite a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science, they continue to be excluded from participating fully in it, according to the United Nations page of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This is why research in science education is fundamental to address inequalities at all levels in science, technology and innovation. We chat about this with Prof. Yeping Li, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of STEM Education.


A recently published article, studying the impact of robotics competitions on the engagement of students in computer science, reveals that gender gaps persist in these learning environments and appear to widen as students grow older and enter more advanced competitions. This is just an example of how educational research is calling for greater attention to supporting women and girls’ interest and involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Why is gender equality in science and the empowerment of women and girls such a debated topic these days?

There has been a stereotype about girls and women who can succeed in STEM, as a historically developed bias about what women need to do and can be good at in certain professions—stereotypes such as nurse, secretary and school teacher. A career in STEM was historically perceived as feasible for boys and men. In many ways, girls’ potential and talent in STEM have not been recognized and supported culturally and politically.

In many ways, girls’ potential and talent in STEM have not been recognized and supported culturally and politically. This certainly presents a big issue

This certainly presents a big issue and also a great challenge not only for ensuring the supply of much-needed STEM quality workforce itself but also for providing many great career development opportunities in STEM that girls and women also deserve.

What happens if not enough resources are invested in fostering students’ engagement in science, both female and male?

It has been commonly recognized that the future job growth is mainly in STEM related professions. In fact, the shortage of qualified workforce in STEM related fields has been in place for quite some years in many countries. The lack of resources in improving students’ engagement and learning in STEM will not do something good for advancing a nation’s science, technology and economy, as well as for helping students to gain many more great career opportunities in the future.

What do you feel are the most meaningful and real implications of good research in science education for the society? Which is your experience?

There are many good reasons that we need to conduct research in education. One important reason, I believe, is that the results can have a certain impact, especially on practice and policy making. The connection with educational practice and policy making is often absent in many research, and it is one of the important questions that have often been discussed over the years. That is why, in the International Journal of STEM Education, we encourage translational STEM education research that bridges research and educational policy and practice for STEM education improvement.

What makes this journal unique?

Via CC0 license.
Via CC0 license.

The journal benefits not only from its open access platform that allows scholars to share knowledge world-wide to promote STEM education, but also from its unique positioning that values contributions of different perspectives. STEM education can be viewed with several currently co-existing perspectives, specifically, as traditionally defined, education and pedagogies focusing on a specific subject in science, technology and mathematics; or, as an educational undertaking to inter-connect all subjects in STEM. The journal aims to provide a common platform that allows educators to share their subject-based education research, and more importantly, to promote multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research in STEM education.

Which are the other urgent topics for educational research? Where do you think researchers should concentrate their efforts?

There are many unanswered questions in STEM education. On one hand, STEM is not a single subject content discipline, but on the other, certain practices of integrated STEM are needed in school education, but generally lacking. For example, we all know that people often need to solve problems in real world that requires the use of integrated knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines. However, current school education is typically subject content-based education, and we simply leave the knowledge integration part to students themselves to manage in the future. There is an apparent gap between what and how school education provides and what and how students will likely need to use in the future.

There is an apparent gap between what and how school education provides and what and how students will likely need to use in the future.

Discussing and promoting integrated STEM education have been getting more and more attention in recent years (see also the articles by LD English and by RA Duschl & RW Bybee), but how this is achieved has been taking quite some different formats and perspectives in practice. This is a topic area that is still in development. It will continue to be a big, challenging, and also exciting, topic area that we can expect much more interesting work for years to come.

Yeping Li is a full professor at Texas A&M University, USA, and also “Eastern Scholar” chair professor at Shanghai Normal University, China. He is the founding Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of STEM Education, and the editor of a monograph series Advances in STEM Education also published by Springer. With his international experience in education and research, he promotes cross-disciplinary and cross-national collaborations and believes that educational practices can be greatly improved with knowledge gained through research.

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