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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Gender split in science attitudes
girl in science lesson
Girls are more interested in issues than technology
Girls and boys in Britain both think science is important but there are marked differences in their interests, a survey suggests.

Two-thirds of boys were keen on the latest technological developments.

But only 37% of girls felt the same - and they were much more likely to think animal experiments were always wrong.

Mori polled 704 youngsters aged 11 to 21 in England, Wales and Scotland, for food company Nestle's social research programme.


Seven out of 10 boys and girls agreed that science and technology made modern life healthier and more comfortable.

Two-thirds wanted more money spent on making "environmentally friendly products", while 43% called for more investment in research into genetically modified food.

If we want to get girls more interested in science and technology, we must move away from purveying the 'space and techie' stereotype
Research director Helen Haste
And 53% of those surveyed trusted scientists to be responsible about the potential dangers of their work.

They were split on whether or not the government could be trusted to legislate to control dangerous scientific developments.

Just over half agreed "people like me and my family have little chance to influence the government".

Girls were much more likely to say they learned how to deal with life's problems by reading fiction and watching films and TV dramas.


Nestle research director Helen Haste said girls were not as turned off by science as was commonly believed but were much more concerned than boys about the ethical issues surrounding the subject.

She said one of the most interesting aspects of her study was that scepticism about the benefits of science was highest among the very girls who were most interested in scientific careers.

"If we want to get girls more interested in science and technology, we must move away from purveying the 'space and techie' stereotype that seems to appeal to boys, and bring ethics and the human context into the science curriculum," Prof Haste said.

"We know from other studies that the most scientifically literate members of the public are actually the ones who express the most concern.

"People who are more trusting of science and trusting of the government are the most moderately educated in science.

"The more you know about science, the more sensitive you become to these issues.

"It isn't a rejection of science, it's a recognition that we have to put science in context."


In recent years there has been growing concern that the science curriculums in schools are turning children off the subject.

The result has been fewer pursuing science to degree level, with resulting shortages in industry and in teaching.

Last month the Royal Society, the UK's national academy for science, said science exams were making lessons boring and irrelevant and failing to prepare pupils for future careers and studies.

A "science in the 21st Century" GCSE is being tried out, involving more examination of topical scientific issues, such as GM foods or global warming, rather than theoretical learning.

In Scotland, as part of the national science strategy, schools have been getting 10m to improve their science equipment.

More recently there has been an emphasis on keeping pupils' interest in the subject alive in the transition from primary to secondary schools.

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