A study published in 2014 has recently made news headlines recently. With places such as the Daily Dot and the Independent bringing out that “57% of teachers admitted to having made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys” related to STEM education in Ireland.
It’s important to note that, once again, this study was done with a very small sample size. Mentioning this is incredibly important to note the accuracy, the localization, and how diverse the study actually was. Without these factors, it’s easy to place these conclusions into a box and assume that 57% of teachers globally believe that girls don’t have what it takes to be in STEM fields. This is not the case. In actuality, this survey conducted only included 997 people in Ireland alone, and only 21% of survey takers were school teachers.
21% of 997 is about 269.
57% of 269 is about 153.
According to Education Ireland, there were 33,613 teachers in First Level schools alone (First Level being Primary Schools and Special Schools) in 2014.
If you take the number 33,613, and say 153 divided by 33,613, you get 0.4%.
So … 0.4% of teachers in Ireland have subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys in school?
Obviously, this number is going to be much bigger in reality.
If you were to survey every Primary School teacher in Ireland, my guess would be that more than 57% of teachers would have subconscious stereotypes about boys and girls in school, and a lot of these teachers probably wouldn’t admit it. However, I don’t know this for sure. This is a hypothesis. Most likely, it’s an accurate one. If I didn’t believe that most people have a negative stereotype against how well girls and women preform in STEM, this website would not exist.
But small sample sizes that don’t represent even an entire area presented as hard fact is a problem. It’s a huge problem. When it is presented as fact, just to find that that the sample size was minuscule, it makes our argument seem weak, and seem inaccurate. The total number of teachers surveyed for this study was only 0.8% of all the First Level school teachers in Ireland at the time. That is an incredibly tiny amount.
So what can we learn from this?
We can learn that negative stereotypes against women in STEM do exist and are a problem. However, this is something most people willing to look at themselves and others with honest eyes already know. Instead of finding out just how many people in a tiny, concentrated area may have sexist ideas, we need to just take steps to eradicate those ideas. We don’t need to know how many people have this idea — we just want to rid of this idea.
And presenting this number as complete and total fact to make it look like it’s a global number (or even just a number to represent the whole of the Ireland school system) will not help the cause.