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National survey finds positive interest in STEM among young people

A new national survey indicates that young Australians have positive attitudes towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics pursuing (STEM) skills, but females continue to be less likely to choose subjects and careers in the sector.

The survey of attitudes to STEM among 2,000 people aged between 12 and 25 was commissioned by the federal Department of Industry and carried out by Student Edge.

The results show that young Australians are aware of the importance of STEM, with many interested in pursuing STEM subjects and careers. STEM skills are also perceived as important in securing rewarding jobs.

The survey shows girls have less confidence in achieving good results in STEM subjects. Gender stereotypes around careers like mathematician, engineer and computer programmer still appear to exist.

It’s estimated that by 2030, Australian workers will spend 77 per cent more time using science and mathematics skills. According to the survey report,  Australia won’t reach its full potential if girls and women remain underrepresented in STEM education and careers.

Federal industry, science and technology minister Karen Andrews said most of the findings are encouraging, but the survey shows there’s more to be done to inspire girls and young women to embrace STEM study and through to their careers.

“As an engineer myself, it’s very encouraging the study found our youth think scientists make a positive difference to the world, and young women want to use STEM to make a difference,” Andrews said.

“Females – more than males – are driven to study STEM subjects by an ambition to change the world, but interest and confidence in these subjects is strongly divided along gender lines.”

From early in their education, the survey found that boys were significantly more likely to choose STEM electives. For Years 9 and 10, 70 per cent of boys chose to study at least one STEM elective, compared to 32 per cent of girls.

There were also marked gender differences in the intentions of students in Years 11 and 12 to study these subjects in higher education, particularly for engineering and technology courses, and computing and information technology courses.

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