Under-representation of women in science-related fields has been a global issue. Despite the growing demands for qualified STEM graduates in the labor market, women remain highly underrepresented in science-related professions (OECD, 2017). Social psychological research explains that the gender gap in science-related jobs is associated with differences in attitudes toward science rather than in scientific ability (Hyde, 2014). Females are less likely to choose math and physical science-related fields than males due to less confidence in their abilities and less subjective value placed on these fields (Eccles et al., 1994). Among multi-faceted factors affecting gender difference in science attitudes and career aspiration, this study sheds light on the role of inquiry-based teaching (hereafter referred to as IBT) in the classroom.
Gender differences in attitudes towards science are related to school science education. Girls are less likely than boys to be exposed to science-related activities due to traditional gender roles in their daily life. Besides, they are more likely to experience negative stereotypes, such as experiencing suspicion of their ability and exclusion in science class (Gunderson et al, 2012). Research suggests that IBT serves as an effective strategy to mitigate these negative experiences for girls (Brotman & Moore, 2008). IBT has been highlighted in science education as an effective tool to enhance students’ scientific knowledge, the experience of the nature of science and students’ interest and motivation in science, providing knowledge via investigation, rather than rote learning (Lazonder & Harmsen, 2016). As it is designed towards including all students, IBT might create more positive attitudes towards science for students regardless of gender. However, little is known about whether the effect of IBT is equitable between boys and girls regarding their attitudes and career aspirations towards science. A large body of literature has focused on the value of IBT on academic achievement.
Research Context: Inquiry-based learning in Korea
Korean students excel in science but lack interest in it, which is more salient for girls (OECD, 2017). This raised criticism on Korean school science education, which has been mainly driven towards test scores for the college entrance exam and implemented by teaching by rote. Recently, the Korean government responded to the criticism by incorporating student-led active teaching (IBT) in the science curriculum as part of broader science education reform, aiming to boost pupils’ interest. While debate continues on the value of IBT across the globe, discussion about this teaching approach is only now emerging in Korea, thus little work has been done so far.
The purpose of this study
To fill the research gap, this study uses a nationally representative sample of Korean students from the 2015 Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) and investigates the associations among IBT, attitudes towards science, and science-related career aspiration with a focus on gender differences. To be specific, the study examines the following associations by gender: i) association between IBT and attitudes towards science and ii) association between IBT and science-related career aspiration.
Significance of the Study
The study contributes to the existing literature in two ways. First, the study sheds light on the potential usage of inquiry-based teaching to encourage girls’ positive attitudes towards science and science-related career aspirations. This adds value to existing literature on the effectiveness of IBT from a gender perspective. Second, from a policy perspective, this study provides valuable empirical evidence to make well-informed decisions for the future direction in school science education to foster interest and reduce the gender gap in science.
The research is based on the expectancy-value theory (EVT; Eccles et al. 1994, 2009). According to the theory, achievement-related choices (e.g., career choice) are directly influenced by the subjective task value (intrinsic value, utility value, self-efficacy) and these value beliefs are also formed by sociocultural factors (e.g., gender and socio-economic status) and context factors (e.g., school, peer, and family contexts).
Data and Methods
The data used in this study comes from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The science-focused 2015 PISA included additional questions on different science learning experiences and attitudes toward science for 15-year-old students in 72 countries. I utilized a nationally representative sample of 5,581 students across 168 schools from Korea. The key independent variable is inquiry-based instruction index drawn from nine questions about pupils’ self-reports on inquiry-based science teaching. The main outcome variables as follows: i) students’ attitudes towards science (intrinsic value, utility value, self-efficacy) and ii) science-related career aspirations. The first outcome variable captures pupils’ attitudes toward science: science self-efficacy, utility value and intrinsic value(enjoyment), which are rated on a 4‐point Likert‐type scale. For the second outcome variable, the PISA 2015 provides students’ self-reports on the open-ended question, “What kind of job do you expect to have when you are about 30 years old?” For this question, the binary variable ‘science-related career aspiration’ has been created. In addition, rich information on student background, teacher and school characteristics are included as control variables. For the analysis, linear regressions (OLS) are conducted to examine the associations between IBT and attitudes towards science. A logistic regression model is used to investigate the association between IBT and science-related career aspiration. All analyses are conducted separately by gender.
IBT is expected to be positively related not only to the attitudes towards science but also to science-related career aspirations for both genders. However, the magnitude of the associations might be different, possibly having a bigger effect on girls. The expected results might indicate that IBT can be an effective, inclusive science education tools to facilitate pupils’ interests, regardless of gender. Furthermore, it might be beneficial for girls in pursuing science-related careers, resulting in reducing the gender gap in science-related fields.