No, girls are not put off by ‘hard maths’, Katharine Birbalsingh | Letters

In response to the social mobility commissioner’s claim that girls are shunning physics because of its difficulty, Matthew Belmonte says we must make Stem classrooms welcoming places for all. Plus letters from Ruth Rising and Rachel Clark

Katharine Birbalsingh’s remark that “physics isn’t something that girls tend to fancy” (Girls shun physics A-level as they dislike ‘hard maths’, says social mobility head, 27 April) sidesteps the crucial question of why girls become so turned off from physics and other Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). As she observes, the gender disparity in Stem subjects seems to arise in large part from the educational and career choices that girls make – but in what environments are these choices made?

At a population level, more girls and women than boys and men tend to combine quantitative skills with social cognitive skills, and therefore have broad leeway to choose subjects and occupations that emphasise one or the other or both. If Stem classrooms and workplaces are allowed to be “boys’ clubs” whose atmospheres are not fully reflective or supportive of girls and women, then girls and women will continue to take their skills elsewhere. Even as we facilitate individual choice, therefore, we must work to make Stem classrooms welcoming places for all, so that these choices are unconstrained.
Matthew Belmonte
Reader in psychology, Nottingham Trent University

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