Exploring the ‘Hard Facts’ around STEM in Australia: Females, Low Socioeconomic Status and Absenteeism

Debra Lee Panizzon, Ruth Geer, Kathy Paige, Lisa O'Keeffe, Lisa Schultz, Yvonne Zeegers, Leni Brown

Abstract


International research suggests that approximately 75% of the fastest growing occupations require skills in STEM (Becker & Park, 2011). This is problematic when recent Australian data highlights the underrepresentation of individuals in STEM-related subjects and professions who are Indigenous, female, or from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2016). Substantive research exists for each of these sub-populations and the factors impacting participation and achievement in schooling generally. This study focuses on a single cohort of female secondary students from Year 10 through to Year 12 attending a school in a low SES location. Two key variables were targeted: participation; and, rates of absenteeism with comparisons across those enrolled in STEM and non-STEM subjects. Data were provided by the school, which comprised both an all-female and co-educational campus on the one site. As such, many of the confounding variables (e.g., leadership, teachers) associated with comparisons of this type were consistent across the site. Non-parametric tests were applied with significant differences identified between female students across the two campuses for particular year levels. This pattern of difference highlights the need for further research to explore underlying variables, such as student cultural background that may account for these findings.

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