COVID changed the education landscape in a lot of ways, but there was a truth present prior to COVID that remains prominent today: there is a gender gap in PreK-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) learning.
Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, Project Lead The Way
Research shows that there are many reasons why girls and women are underrepresented in STEM education and careers, including gender stereotypes, bias, and norms that can affect girls’ interest in STEM from an early age. At Project Lead The Way (PLTW), we know that having confidence in the classroom from an early age can make all the difference in a student’s choice to pursue higher education when they are older. We also understand the importance of building self-confidence and self-esteem, which begins as early as elementary school when students are demonstrating an innate drive to observe, explore, and discover the world around them.
The benefits of STEM learning
To close the gender gap in STEM learning and STEM careers, an integral part of the solution lies within introducing female students to STEM at a young age — as early as Pre-K — when they exhibit a natural curiosity to make sense of the world around them. For example, in Lubin’s 2017 study, 76% of the study’s PLTW High School female students agreed or strongly agreed that they have the ability to become an engineer because of PLTW courses. Additional data obtained by PLTW in 2022 of a rural school district in south Texas suggests that, after exposing more elementary students to PLTW Launch and increasing opportunities for middle school students to participate in PLTW, the gender demographics change from 26% to 46% female of their PLTW Gateway (grades 6-8) students.
Exposure to hands-on, relevant learning experiences in education has never been more important for America’s students, especially for girls and other underrepresented groups. How do we make learning in the third grade relevant to a career? We must help them understand that what they’re learning today matters — and not just to ace a test, but for the lifelong pursuit of an enduring career.