Behind the “science girl” boom
Female students who major in math and science (“science girls” for short) are now coming under the spotlight. The number of science girls that appear in the mainstream media like newspapers or weekly magazines as well as college information or job information magazines is steadily increasing. But why have science girls become a popular topic of conversation? Answering this question makes us face the reality that the number of girls who go on to take the science course is far smaller compared with that of boys. According to the latest data from the General Survey of School (February in 2011), which gives the faculty-based student enrollment of undergraduate students, in the “science” faculty, for example, the percentage of male students is 73%, whereas the percentage of female students remains at 27%. The ratio of males to females is approximately 7 to 3. In the “engineering” faculty, the percentage of male students is 88% and that of female students is 12%, according to which, the ratio of males to females is approximately 9 to 1. Without comparing the science faculty with other faculties, we can clearly see that the ratio of males to females is remarkably one-sided, which causes the concern that females who play a key role in the field of science in society “might disappear someday.” What is behind such a seemingly spectacular science girl boom is, in reality, a concern for the future.
“Madonna of Science” project
For Japan, which is greatly skilled at making things and takes pride in being a country built on science, this “concern” has become synonymous with a “sense of crisis.” It's not hard to anticipate that if the day should come when we cannot expect any development in manufacturing and science that gives a female’s viewpoint full play, Japan will fall far behind other countries in the advance of science and technology. Actually, the government has been developing measures to systematically improve conditions one after another, and companies and educational institutions have increasingly worked on projects intended to enlarge the number of girls who wish to go on to take the science course. At Tokyo University of Science, where the present writer works, the project for supporting junior high and high girl students to choose the science route started under the name of the “Madonna of Science” project in April 2008. When the project started, it was adopted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as the “Project for Supporting Junior High and High Girl Students to Choose the Science Route” and later by the Japan Technology and Science Agency as such three times, and since then Tokyo University of Science has been developing the project based on the total cooperative structure provided by the entire school, while receiving governmental support.
The main feature of the “Madonna of Science” lies in its clear basic concept. First, “Going on to the Field of Science” is set as a goal, and the process that leads to the goal is categorized into three themes, “Know Science,” “Experience Research” and “Be Conscious of Being a Professional.” Next, each theme is broken down according to steps, and then junior high and high girl students will be supported so they will be able to reach their goal step-by-step. This is the framework of the basic concept. (See the website of Tokyo University of Science for further information.)
“Step 1: Know Science” provide junior high and high girl students with opportunities to experience science through experiments and observation with the goal of letting them taste the fun of science and the science course. Next, in “Step 2: Experience Research,” students can experience research including data processing, experiments, analyses and examinations, and what is more, through associating with female undergraduate and graduate students, they can do some research on what and how they will study or what lifestyle they will lead if they go on to take the science course. In the final step ,“Step 3: Be Conscious of Being a Professional,” woman scientists and researchers who are active in the front lines will give lectures, make presentations and give talks to inspire the students there.
Introducing Madonna events
The above-mentioned basic concept is mainly realized through events held three times a year at each campus. The series of events starts with “Madonna in Spring,” which is held on Saturday afternoons or Sunday afternoons from the end of April to the end of May at Kagurazaka Campus (Tokyo). This event features lectures given by professionals in the field of science through which they convey the fun of science and the science course, and a poster session presented by female graduate students where they introduce their research contents. Each year the fixed number of applicants is reached before the closing day.
The following event is “Madonna in Midsummer,” which has the reputation as being a sleepover science project and that is staged far away in Oshamanbe, (Hokkaido). In early August, junior high or high school girls from all over the country stay there for four days and three nights or three days and two nights. They stay at the girls’ dormitory on campus, and the big charm of this event is that they can come into close contact with university students who are supporting the event. The program includes experiments, astronomical observation, lectures, a poster session and so on and enjoys a good reputation due to program’s real charm of participants being able to experience the above-mentioned three steps at one time.
The last one is “Madonna in Autumn,” which is held on Noda Campus (Chiba Prefecture) during the university festival in late November. There are two events in the morning. One is “lectures” delivered by active scientists and professionals in the science field, and the other is a “Q&A style talk session” where female graduate students, young teachers and lecturers answer questions from students. In the afternoon, they can freely choose two experiments, one from two types of biological experiments and the other form two types of engineering experiments, according to their interest.
As just described, “Madonna in Spring,” “Madonna in Midsummer” and “Madonna in Autumn” have a distinctive character respectively in terms of both in a software side that is typified by the venues and in a hardware side that is typified by the programs; however, those three events overlap each other in a sense that the assets consisting of the long history and achievements that Tokyo University of Science has accumulated in the area of science education are tapped to the maximum. For example, an experiment lesson and delivery class that are intended to stimulate children’s interest in science and the science course and “Woman Scientist Experience Lecture” for junior high and high girl students are events that had already enjoyed good results before the “Madonna of Science” project started, therefore, the “Madonna of Science” project owes a lot to these preceding events.
Voice of event participants
What we are always acutely conscious of at the event is the participants’ response. Therefore, there has been emphasis on a questionnaire survey since the first project in the “Madonna of Science” project. We decided to conduct a questionnaire survey after every event, and in addition, we sent out follow-up questionnaires to all the past event participants in 2010.
A questionnaire has closed-ended question items and open-ended question items, and it is also designed to cover a variety of questions. The results of the questionnaire are partly as follows: To the question “(After the event) Has your interest in science/the science course changed?” more than 95% of the participants answered “Increased very much/Increased a little,” which shows that participants’ attitudes changed after the event as was intended. Also, we compared the percentage of participants who answered “Yes” to the question “Do you want to go on to take the science course?” before the event with the answers to the same question after the event, and found that the percentage rose by about 10 percent.
When we direct our attention to the open-ended question items, we notice that their responses to the question “What do you want to know about women going on to the field of science?” centered around matters about finding employment and lifestyle. Included are “In what kind of business can I make good use of what I have learned at the science course at the university?” “In what type of business do female employees who have finished the science course actively work?” “I hear that they are so busy that some of them miss a good chance to get married and they also have a hard time making time to take care of their children. Is that true?” and so on. What is very interesting is the fact that these responses from students are in concert with the responses to the item “Your question or concern relating to your daughter’s going on to take the science course” found in the questionnaire for their parents. In the first place, quite a few parents feel less secure about their daughter going on to take the science course, and according to the questionnaire survey conducted at “Madonna in Spring,” 80% of parents who came with their daughters had some anxiety about it.
Even now, it is not uncommon in our school to hear from female graduate students that they were viewed as eccentric when they took a science class at high school or to hear from female undergraduate students that they entered university without having reconciled with their parents who wanted them to choose the humanities route. One young researcher says that as soon as she declared her intention of going on to take the science route, she was openly told that she was “not feminine.” Breaking down the fixed idea that “the science course is for male students and the humanities course is for female students” is the matter that needs to be carried out preferentially through the supportive activities for junior high and high girl students to choose the science route. It is not a matter of “masculine or feminine.” I believe the important thing is that junior high or high school girl students can set their own route and be proud of their own decision, and which is the very thing that will give real meaning to the supportive activities for junior high and high girl students to choose the science route.
Chinese / Japanese