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Broadening access to STEM

A recent workshop looked at how and why CERN has introduced gender-inclusive teaching into its teacher programmes

Workshop of Gender Equality in Education
Workshop of Gender Equality in Education (Image: CERN)

Francesca Borgonovi, Senior Analyst from OECD, presenting the OECD report “The ABC of Gender Equality in Education” (Image: J. Ordan/CERN)

Back in 2015, CERN’s Diversity Office launched an initiative targeting high-school science teachers: a 20-hour group session on the topic of gender inclusive teaching was introduced into CERN’s yearly International Teacher Programme. Its aim was to raise awareness within the teaching community and help build competencies to spark the interest of both female and male students.

One of the things I will take home is that an environment of collaboration and open discussion, rather than competition, can do wonders and can engage not only more girls, but also my more introverted male students.

- I. Molefi, Physics Teacher and participant in the 2015 International Teacher programme

Now, the Diversity Office is rolling out a 45-minute interactive module in CERN’s National Teacher Programmes, reaching out to more of the teachers visiting CERN.

In this framework, the Diversity Office organised a “Gender Equality in Education” workshop on 5 June, inviting academics and experts in the field. Among the invited speakers were Francesca Borgonovi, Senior Analyst at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Beth Bramley, Gender Balance Manager at the Institute of Physics (IOP); and Isabelle Collet, Associate Researcher at the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of Geneva (UNIGE). On behalf of CERN, Teacher Programmes manager Jeff Wiener and Diversity analyst Ioanna Koutava also presented the Organization’s activities.

Borgonovi presented highlights from the 2015 OECD report “The ABC of Gender Equality in Education”, which looked at data on more than half a million students from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) worldwide study. The report explored the differences in performance and behaviour between female and male students. Trends showed the differences in attitudes and self-belief, as well as the expectations of students and their parents of future careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Bramley showcased initiatives launched by the IOP to improve gender balance in education in the United Kingdom, as well as research findings around stereotypes and educational practices. In particular, the 2017 report on improving gender balance showed that a three-pronged approach produced positive effects: improving girls’ resilience, developing inclusive techniques in physics lessons and training the entire school staff on unconscious biases. For more information on the IOP’s reports, resources and current projects, visit the IOP gender balance webpage.

Collet provided practical advice for teachers on gender inclusive teaching. Her examples included the difference in student behaviour when the same task was described as a “geometric test” or a “drawing game” with boys preferring the former description and girls the latter (there are a large number of papers exploring this topic, including this one). Her tips on how to make the classroom more inclusive included giving all students the opportunity to speak and encouraging cooperative rather than competitive work. For more information, see the list of Collet’s publications.

During the workshop, the Diversity Office invited people working at CERN to volunteer to give the 45-minute “Gender Equality in Education” presentation to teachers visiting CERN. If you are interested, please contact hr-diversity-info@cern.ch.

The workshop was attended by 110 participants from around CERN, as well as a group of Finnish teachers that were visiting at the time. The presentations are available to people working at CERN here.

Find out the latest news from the CERN Diversity Office here.