Hear Me - New Zealand edition

Guest Blog from Jess Weichler

When the Gender Bias in STEM campaign was announced on the Hear Me website I was excited by the prospect of collecting stories from kids in New Zealand.  I am originally from the United States and was interested in gathering an international perspective to see how cultural differences might influence ones perceptions on gender as it relates to skill. 

During an Hour of Code event in Wellington, New Zealand I collected stories alongside programmer Seth Kenlon.  We set up a booth where attendees could choose to be interviewed in-between sessions on video game programming and robotics.  

We had no age requirements, but our interviewees ended up being quite young, between the ages of 8 and 11.  I was surprised to hear that many of them didn’t seem to have even entertained the notion that gender might influence a person’s interests and skills.  When we told the kids that statistically, there are more boys who choose to study STEM topics than girls, half of them said they weren’t aware of the statistic, then went silent. 

The only real, strong declaration of gender bias came from a young girl, Paisley, who proudly asserted that boys weren’t good at art.  When probed to expand upon her reasoning she said simply “I’ve seen a lot of boys at school who don’t draw as well as girls.“ The boys we interviewed were incredibly perceptive, most of them stating that they thought boys and girls were equal in regards to skill. However, they expanded on those ideas by questioning whether everyone shared the same set of interests. Each boy supposed that the primary drive to learn something was an interest in the subject, and the opportunity to pursue those interests. They didn’t question where interests originate, but didn’t attribute it to gender, either.
A more general observation of our time collecting interviews was the shyness of many of the kids.  On many questions, they declared that they didn’t have any opinion.  I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t have a favourite subject, even if it is just lunch.  They were all very wiling to participate, but when the microphone was on they were hesitant to speak up.  Though it would be a pain from a recording standpoint, Seth and I wonder if our interviewees might have had more to say in a group setting where they are already accustom to making themselves heard.

As this campaign progresses in many different cities and schools, I am interested to hear how responses might vary throughout the pre-teen and teen years.  As a technology educator, I have witnessed first-hand the drastic drop off of female students through the teen years in technology-based subject.  I feel getting more responses throughout a diverse age range may provide important data.  Do perceptions about the skills sets of boys and girls change? If so, when and why do they change? Data about this is well worth gathering and studying, to understand the trend, and to learn how we educators and mentors might influence this.