The gender gap in Australia’s science community is showing signs of narrowing, with record applications from schoolgirls wanting to be part of a sought-after education program breaking down the barriers for women entering science, technology, engineering and maths careers.
Curious Minds, a six-month extension program for girls in high school years 9 and 10, saw 323 students from across the country apply to take part in the 2022-23, an increase of 190 on last year, and 498% more than when Curious Minds began in 2014.
Of the 120 successful students, 116 come from regional and remote locations, or from schools below the average educational advantage. Eleven participants identify as indigenous and/or Torres Strait Islander people.
“We are delighted with the huge response from girls wanting to make science an ongoing part of their lives,” ASI Executive Director Alyssa Weirman said.
“We’re particularly pleased to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls in Curious Minds. Diversity of gender, culture and socio-economic background is incredibly important to the critical thinking required to solve the science and technology challenges of the future.
“These results support Australian Science Innovations’ goal to make learning and working in science accessible to everyone.”
Curious Minds, an initiative of the Australian Government delivered by Australian Science Innovations and the Australian Maths Trust (AMT), comprises two four-day camps where students and mentors take part in group activities and workshops. Between camps, girls work on a STEM-related project directly with a female mentor.
The first 2022-23 camp, for girls from South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, will be held online from this Sunday December 4. Girls from the ACT, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania will join their four-day camp on Sunday, December 11. Sixty students will attend each camp, alongside mentors and tutors.
In July 2023, the girls will regroup for their second, face-to-face, Curious Minds camps.
Ms Weirman said she was heartened by the enthusiasm for science shown by Australian schoolgirls, particularly amid discouraging data from STEM Equity Monitor, the Australian Government’s national data report on girls and women in STEM, which revealed that of all higher education enrolments in 2019, only 9 per cent of women were studying STEM subjects, in comparison with 31 per cent of men.
“Curious Minds is helping redress the balance by providing a pathway for our female scientists of the future to gain the support, mentorship and encouragement they need to pursue their dreams.
“ASI is committed to fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation and excitement about science to provide the talent that will support Australia’s goal of becoming a global STEM superpower.”
Australian Maths Trust Chief Executive Officer Nathan Ford said the record registrations, “The Curious Minds program affords young women with a unique opportunity to develop their mathematical and scientific skills in an engaging and supportive environment. With 77% of our alumni intending on pursuing a STEM related career, the program has proven itself as a great way for young women to start their STEM journey and take up their role in solving the challenges facing our world.”