Just boys’ stuff? The importance of making science accessible from a young age

“Oh…physics… I’ve never understood it” or “I’ve never been very good at science/maths.” It’s not unusual to meet this kind of reaction when it comes to science. It is a fact: science is often intimidating and people sometimes claim total incompetence when it comes to science. Yet when so many elements of modern society depend on science and technology, it’s crucial for each and every one of us to approach science without anxiety or apprehension.

I’ve been head of the Espace des inventions, in Lausanne, Switzerland, for 15 years, a centre dedicated to developing interest in science and technology. Thanks to a small, enthusiastic and inventive team, the Espace develops diverse, innovative tools to arouse the interest of both children and adults in science and technology. We create themed exhibitions that encourage interaction and a great deal of thought goes into the scenography. Each exhibition provides a didactic, free play universe in which everyone can easily become immersed. We decided to focus initially on 7 to 12-year-old children because this is the age group in which curiosity outmatches fears or prejudice. Beyond an instant learning experience, we want to create positive and stimulating memories in these young minds, far removed from the anxiety of school and without any discouragement when they experience difficulties. I’m convinced that these memories will improve their future scientific learning.

It is however harder to convince girls. During the Little Inventors Club - organised for children between 7 and 12 years old – we regularly hear stereotypes about girls’ or boys’ interests and abilities. You can imagine that handling a soldering iron, solving a maths problem or operating a robot are not mentioned as girls’ skills. Despite our communication efforts to encourage girls to take part in these workshops, they still only represent barely one third of our participants. The same type of ratio can unfortunately be found in many similar situations. In Geneva, for instance, girls represent only 18% of physics and applied maths students. There is still a long way to go to convince girls that science is also suited to them, that they won’t face more challenges than boys but also that they may like science as much as boys do. But it is not that simple! How can we cultivate girls’ interest? I really think that this is long-term task requiring perseverance and creativity.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m determined to ensure in my own humble way that our children, boys and girls will become curious about science, capable of critical thought and willing to learn more about the world in which they live. I really like the idea of working towards this ambitious goal within the diversity of tasks that I manage every day.

For Women in Science

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