Twenty-five-year-old astrophysics student, Kat Ross, is currently completing her PHD on black holes in the galaxy, but in the meantime, she’s found a few more in the NSW education system’s STEM curriculum.
Ross, who has worked in physics education, found that NSW science students in years 11 and 12 are learning about almost 80 male scientists, but only two female scientists. She says the current curriculum tells girls that a career in science is “most appropriate only for men”.
“It incorrectly implies that women have rarely made significant contributions to the field,” she told Women’s Agenda. “It is just not the right message and it does not encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM.”
Ross has launched a petition on Change.org, and the social media campaign #includeher, that encourages the NSW education department to teach students more about the significant contribution of women in science. The petition, which can be viewed here, has already attracted around 1,400 signatures.
Astronomer and ARC Future Fellow, Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, supports the petition. She said through her education she discovered women’s contribution to science and “how their discoveries have been misappropriated by the men around them”.
“When I was a child, I remember finding out that there were female astronauts, and that made me realise I could follow the same path,” she commented when signing the petition. “I eventually became an astrophysicist and could not be happier.”
It seems as though Ross’ concerns have been heard with the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) looking to address the gender imbalance in its curriculum by 2021. At first she describes her interactions with NESA as “bumpy” – “you’re pointing out a glaring hole in the curriculum, which is difficult”. Now she’s in regular discussion with NESA about workable ways to change the curriculum in ways that will encourage greater representation from girls.
Ross has also been in talks with STEM Ambassador, Lisa Harvey-Smith, who has taken the concerns to education ministers.
“We want to change the narrative in STEM to be inclusive of women in science,” Ross said.
“The first step is having great, inclusive teachers. My physics high school teacher, Mr Farr, would give us quite difficult scenarios to figure out ourselves. He’d support us and when it was done, he’d say: ‘you have done this yourself. Just you.’ It was a great message to send to girls in STEM.”