Parents of Under-Represented Students in Science and Engineering Speak Out on Issue...

Parents of Under-Represented Students in Science and Engineering Speak Out on Issue in New National Survey

Say Girls, African-American, Native American and Hispanic American Students Have the Right Stuff for Success


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Pittsburgh, PA–(HISPANIC PR WIRE – US Newswire)–May 24, 2005–Despite the fact that women, African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans have long been under-represented in science and engineering (S&E) in the United States, a new survey shows parents of these students are overwhelmingly confident that their children – both boys and girls – have what it takes to succeed in these subjects in school and afterward in the workplace.

Parents see science and technology as important engines driving the nation’s economy and national security and view science and engineering careers as “desirable” and “realistic” for both their sons and daughters. At the same time, parents believe the science and engineering communities need to do a better job of making today’s students more aware of the wide range of job opportunities available to them in these fields.

When it comes to the long-standing gender and minority inequities in these fields, many parents surveyed say they are aware of such inequities and more than half say they are concerned about them. However, unlike the National Science Board (NSB), the governing board of the National Science Foundation, significant numbers of parents do not see any potential danger this inequity may pose for the United States and its ability to retain its global leadership position in science and technology.

These are among the key findings in the newest national science education/science literacy survey commissioned by Bayer Corporation as part of its Making Science Make Sense (R) (MSMS) program. This year’s survey examines the issue of under-representation of women, African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans in science and engineering fields from their parents’ point of view.

The Bayer Facts of Science Education XI: American Parents Speak Out About Their Children and Science polled 1,000 American parents who have at least one boy and one girl between the ages of 5 and 18 living at home. In addition, in order to include under-represented minorities, interviews with African-American, Native American and Hispanic American parents who fit the same profile were added until each of these groups contained 250 completed surveys. A total of 1,500 surveys were conducted in March and April 2005.

Parents Positive About Girls and Boys and Science

Overall, the survey found that parents across the board think both their sons and daughters are potential winners when it comes to science and math. Many report their sons (88 percent) and daughters (85 percent) are interested in science, math or engineering. Six in 10 (63 percent) parents report their sons have already expressed an interest in continuing to study or have a career in these fields, while four in 10 (42 percent) report their daughters have expressed such an interest.

They’re interested, but can they succeed? Yes, say parents. Almost all parents (96 percent sons; 95 percent daughters) are confident that their sons and daughters have the ability to succeed in these subjects in school, with nearly three-fourths (75 percent sons; 73 percent daughters) feeling “very confident.” In addition, nearly all of the parents (92 percent sons; 90 percent daughters) are confident that their children have the ability to succeed in S&E careers, with half or more saying they are “very confident” (69 percent sons; 57 percent daughters).

Virtually all parents see these careers as desirable for their sons (91 percent) and their daughters (86 percent). And, upon learning that many jobs in these fields do not require advanced degrees beyond a bachelor’s, most parents (88 percent) believe these fields present realistic job opportunities for their children. However, almost all parents across the board (88 percent) believe the S&E communities need to do a better job telling today’s students about these job opportunities.

Parents: Bullish, Yet Biased?

While the survey uncovers parents’ overall positive attitudes about their sons’ and daughters’ abilities to achieve in science in school and beyond, at the same time it reveals a subtle gender bias that favors their sons. This bias is revealed in the strength of their answers to a series of questions. For example, while almost all (91 percent sons; 86 percent daughters) believe these careers are desirable for their children, 65 percent say they are “very desirable” for their boys and 41 percent say “very desirable” for their girls. In addition, while nearly all parents (92 percent sons; 90 percent daughters) are confident their children can succeed in S&E fields, 69 percent are “very confident” about their boys and only 57 percent are “very confident” about their girls.

“First and foremost, we must applaud parents for recognizing their sons’ and daughters’ capacity to succeed in science, math and engineering fields, and for encouraging and assisting them regularly in their formal and informal science education,” said Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the nation’s first African-American female astronaut and Bayer’s national MSMS spokesperson. “That said, parents and all adults, for that matter, need to be aware that our own unspoken biases are often communicated unknowingly to our children with negative impacts. When it comes to science, math and engineering, we must acknowledge that for the United States to build and maintain the kind of creative and inquisitive research that keeps discovery and innovation alive, everyone must have a seat at the table.”

Challenges

In learning science, more parents identify challenges for their daughters than they do for their sons.

When asked to evaluate such possible challenges, parents indicated the following as either a big challenge or somewhat of a challenge:

— Science classes are boring or uninteresting (58 percent girls; 51 percent boys)

— Teachers who are poorly qualified to teach science (57 percent girls; 47 percent boys)

— Few good science role models or mentors for them (56 percent girls; 45 percent boys)

— Science is a difficult subject to learn (54 percent girls; 43 percent boys)

Issues many parents believe pose either little or no challenge at all for their children include:

— Science is not a “cool” subject (64 percent girls; 67 percent boys)

— Teachers who hold the view that their sons and daughters don’t belong in science (69 percent girls; 75 percent boys)

“The good news here is that old stereotypes seem to be breaking down,” said Jemison. “The fact that science is no longer seen as ‘nerdy’ and that teachers are seen as inclusive when it comes to boys and girls in science – these are big steps in the right direction.”

Under-representation

But, Jemison says, more work needs to be done, particularly in the area of under-representation. For example, while two-thirds (66 percent) of parents polled report being aware of the under-representation of women, African- Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans in S&E fields, and more than half (56 percent) are concerned, only 15 percent are “very concerned” and a significant number of all parents – except African-Americans – are not concerned (44 percent parents overall; 63 percent Native Americans and 52 percent Hispanic Americans). A larger number of African-American parents (69 percent) are concerned.

Further, parents do not appear to share the concern outlined by the NSB and National Science Foundation in recent national reports. These reports warn that the U.S.’s global leadership position in science and technology could be threatened in the future if we don’t begin adding more women and minorities to the number of scientists and engineers we need to stay competitive. When asked whether this lack of participation threatens the U.S.’s ability to compete with other countries in S&E, parents were divided with roughly half saying “yes” (47 percent) and “no” (49 percent).

“The science and engineering communities not only need to do a better job communicating the myriad job opportunities to students, we need to work much harder at letting them — and their parents — know that we want and need them in these fields. One way is by actively supporting science education programs that strive to eliminate this inequity and achieve parity,” said Dr. Attila Molnar, Bayer Corporation president and CEO.

Closing the Gap

Parents agree. They believe the S&E communities (92 percent), together with parents themselves (98 percent) and others, share responsibility for ensuring women and minorities succeed in these fields. In addition, many agree (72 percent) the S&E communities should develop programs that attract, encourage and retain girls’ and minority students’ interest in science and math.

Parents also think education is key. One important way to eliminate this under-representation is for girls and minorities to receive a strong science and math education beginning in elementary school, say 95 percent of parents. Almost all parents (81 percent) believe science should be the fourth “R” in elementary school and given the same emphasis as reading, writing and math, although half (56 percent) believe science is/was given less emphasis during their children’s elementary school years.

Almost all parents across the board (87 percent) say that the most effective method for students to learn science is through hands-on, inquiry-based instruction where students conduct hands-on experiments, form opinions and discuss and defend their conclusions with others. Virtually none of the parents (three percent) selected traditional textbook-based, lecture-driven science education as the more effective method.

“The science and engineering pipeline doesn’t begin in college, nor does it begin in high school. It starts in elementary school at the earliest grades when all students are interested in science,” explained Sarah Toulouse, who oversees Bayer’s MSMS initiative. “Hands-on science, through the process of discovery, captures and sustains this interest, while building important science literacy skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork. We believe this is the way to create a healthy pipeline – and not just of future scientists and engineers — but of a citizenry that is scientifically literate.”

The Bayer Facts of Science Education survey series, part of an ongoing annual public opinion research project, is one component of Bayer’s company-wide Making Science Make Sense initiative that advances science literacy through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education. Currently, 11 Bayer sites around the country operate local MSMS programs, which together represent a national volunteer corps of more than 1,000 employees.

Bayer Corporation, headquartered in Pittsburgh, is part of the worldwide Bayer Group, an international health care, nutrition and innovative materials group based in Leverkusen, Germany. In North America, as of April 2005, Bayer employed about 16,000 and had net sales of 8.3 billion euros. Bayer’s three operating companies — Bayer HealthCare LLC, Bayer CropScience LP and Bayer MaterialScience LLC — improve people’s lives through a broad range of essential products that help diagnose and treat diseases, protect crops and advance automobile safety and durability. The Bayer Group stock is a component of the DAX and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: BAY).

Results of The Bayer Facts of Science Education XI, conducted by Market Research Associates, are based on a telephone poll of a total of 1,500 American parents using random digit dialing. The confidence level achieved conducting the initial 1,000 telephone interviews is 95 percent with a +/- three percent margin of error. Each of the 250 completed telephone interviews among the three minority groups provides a confidence level of 95 percent with a +/- seven percent error factor.

For more information about the Bayer Facts XI survey in both English and Spanish, please visit Bayer’s MSMS Web site at http://www.BayerUS.com/MSMS.

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CONTACT:

Bayer Media Line

Rebecca Lucore

412-777-5200

o

Sarah Toulouse

412-777-5200

Parents of Under-Represented Students in Science and Engineering Speak Out on Issue in New National Survey