Gender equality is essential to develop and sustain the capacity for sustainable development although, ironically, STEM subjects and professions see the greatest gender digital divide and especially in developing economies
Economic and social development is dependent on a robust technological base. Globally, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education leads to the highest-paid and most prestigious jobs. Digital literacy is critical for civic engagement-political participation, community-building, access to health care; economic stability. Social inequalities are both perpetuated, and challenged, through technology.
Yet, apart from self-efficacy, attitude and access, decades of research have shown that while there are no significant differences among males and females in ability, participation and retention in STEM subjects among women fall rapidly in high school and higher education and carry over into related professions. We have explored these complex issues in previous editorials. In this article, we will look at the role of gender in the recruitment of women as teachers of STEM.
Digital literacy: tackling the gender digital divide
Digital literacy, digital or competence, is identified by European Commission as a core competence in 2022 and beyond. Digital competence for citizens goes beyond information literacy and the ability to use digital tools and includes integrating various viewpoints such as creativity, ethics, cooperation and communication as well as the need for attitudes and perspectives related to privacy, copyright compliance, and digital culture. Digital competencies are integrated with basic job performance skills such as communication, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. Several digital literacy/competence frameworks are available, including the ISTE Standards for Educators, and UNESCO’s ICT competency framework for teachers and the DigCompEdu framework. The latter focuses on pedagogical aspects while other frameworks emphasize technical dimensions of digital competence.
Studies analyzing gender differences in digital competency found certain gender-based characteristics in pre-service teachers may affect the use of technology in the classroom, influencing gender preferences for subjects and professions that are technology-based. Male pre-service teachers show higher ability in information and data usage, digital content production, safety, and problem-solving; had a higher ability to use computers and acquire digital media information faster, and had a higher level of awareness and understanding of technology-related variables. Men are more likely to rate their confidence and professional skills positively showed higher self-esteem in commitment to the academic goals of schooling and over-estimated their digital competency.
By contrast, female teachers have lower proficiency levels in computer and internet programming, database design, hardware and software, and multimedia production; but the level of technological pedagogical content knowledge is higher. The level of female teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and pedagogical content knowledge are higher; the level of knowledge and interest related to teaching methods and subject areas is higher, and females have higher knowledge and awareness of technology which is related to content knowledge and teaching methods. Finally, females show relatively low interest in the technology component itself and underestimate their competencies.
An unconscious bias in STEM?
The design of teacher education programs is fundamental to developing a gender-responsive curriculum, digitally competent teachers, and being able to integrate technology in STEM and other school subjects. With the recent pandemic surfacing the need for flexibility, resilience and creativity in teachers’ pedagogical responses, the urgency of transforming pre-service teacher education, as well as continuing learning support, has become apparent. For one thing, a lack of gender responsiveness in teaching and curriculum development has been implicated in difficulties attracting and retaining women in STEM. Educators may have unconscious or even conscious gender biases or have not been educated in pedagogies that might ameliorate the situation.
There are also fewer women role models in teaching with technology during pre-service teacher education. In one study of pre-service physics teachers, male students were more competent at using various digital tools for information and data sharing, and digital content creation. Female students were better at using technology to research information and in communication and collaboration. Other studies have found that a focus on projects that resonate with women, for example, those related to environmental justice, in which technology use is sociocultural- contextualized and relevant, encourages participation and retention. This approach to curriculum rejects science as an instrumentalist, i.e. dry, non-contextualized and simply factual, divorces from the reality of how science affects social, economic and political policies and practices.
Some universities describe program innovations that have been successful in attracting women to computer science programs and specializations in teacher education. For example, Carnegie Mellon University held places designated for women, even with lower levels of experience and provided enhanced counselling support. A course for secondary school teachers in computer science explained about teaching but also presented the difficulties that female students have. Social networks and informal learning and practice opportunities helped alleviate anxiety. Other educators have opted to include social, moral, and ethical issues in computer science education
– Chikunda, C. (2014) Identifying tensions around gender-responsive curriculum practices in science teacher education in Zimbabwe: An Activity Theory Analysis. African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 18(3), pp. 264-275.
– Grande-de-Prado, M., Cañón, R., García-Martín, S., & Cantón, I. (2020). Digital competence and gender: Teachers in training. A case study. Future Internet, 12(11), 204.
– European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice (2019). Digital Education at School in Europe. Eurydice Report (978-92-9492-998-3). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.http://dx.doi.org/10.2797/66552.
– Redecker, C. (2017). European framework for the digital competence of educators: DigCompEdu (No. JRC107466). Joint Research Centre (Seville site).
– Rizal, R., Rusdiana, D., Setiawan, W., Siahaan, P., & Ridwan, I. M. (2021, March). Gender differences in digital literacy among prospective physics teachers. Journal of Physics: Conference Series 1806(1), p. 012004). IOP Publishing.
– Stoilescu, D., & McDougall, D. (2011). Gender digital divide and challenges in undergraduate computer science programs. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 34(1), 308-333.
– Vucaj, I., 2020). Development and initial validation of the Digital Age teaching scale (DATS) to assess the application of ISTE standards for educators in K–12 education classrooms. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, pp. 1–23.
– Yoon, S. H. (2022). Gender and digital competence: Analysis of pre-service teachers’ educational needs and its implications. International Journal of Educational Research, 114, 101989.
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Faculty of Arts – Women’s & Gender Studies
Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Alberta is home to feminist research, social justice studies, and engaging citizenship.