Australia’s 2019–20 Youth in STEM survey by YouthInsight found that parents and teachers were the greatest influencer groups of young people’s education and career decisions. The 2020-21 STEM Influencers survey explored educators’ (teachers’ and career advisers’) perceptions and attitudes to STEM.
Attitudes and capability in STEM subjects
Compare STEM views among educators across demographic groups and schooling levels, including how confident they are teaching STEM.
Men educators were more likely to have obtained a STEM qualification (47%) than women educators (33%). Secondary teachers of STEM subjects (60%) were more likely to have a STEM qualification than those who do not teach STEM subjects (31%).
Among educators, irrespective of whether they teach STEM subjects or not, almost all agreed that STEM skills are important for the Australian economy (97%). They also agreed that these skills will help provide job security for future workers (89%).
Most educators saw STEM as an integrative set of skills with all 4 individual STEM skills important to acquire a good job.
They ranked STEM skills as follows:
- Technology was most important (62% said these skills are very important).
- Mathematics skills ranked next (50% said these skills are very important).
- Engineering ranked lowest (25% said these skills as very important).
The data showed some gender differences around the importance of specific subjects. Men were more likely than women to agree that science (31% more likely) and engineering (43% more likely) are very important for future employment prospects.
The survey found that primary teachers placed significantly greater importance on technology skills compared to secondary teachers (68%, compared to 56%). The same pattern was found for mathematics skills (57%, compared to 44%).
Those with prior STEM qualifications were also significantly more likely to identify STEM skills as very important to get a good job (60% reported that integrative STEM skills are very important, compared to 39% of those without STEM qualifications). Technology skills were seen as equally important by educators with (64%) and without (61%) STEM qualifications.
Confidence in teaching STEM
For educators, 90% of men felt qualified to teach at least one STEM topic area compared with 80% of women. Across primary, secondary STEM, secondary non-STEM and tertiary, educators felt least confident to teach engineering. Only 32% said they feel confident in this subject.
Men reported significantly more confidence teaching across all STEM subjects. Three in 5 men (60%) were confident teaching at least one of the STEM subjects, compared to 39% of women. For context, a greater proportion of men educators in this sample have STEM qualifications and teach STEM. This may impact these results.
Secondary STEM teachers were more confident teaching at least one STEM subject (64%), compared to primary teachers (45%) and secondary non-STEM teachers (19%).
In both primary and secondary teachers, those with STEM qualifications were much more confident teaching STEM. For example:
- Primary teachers with STEM qualifications were more than 3 times as confident teaching STEM as an integrative set of skills than those without.
- Secondary teachers with STEM qualifications were almost 7 times as confident teaching STEM as an integrative set of skills than those without.
- Primary teachers with STEM qualifications were 2.5 times as confident teaching science than those without.
- Secondary teachers with STEM qualifications were more than twice as confident teaching science than those without.
Capacity to give STEM career advice
Among those who provide career advice to students, 55% rated their ability to provide students with advice on STEM pathways as high or very high. A further 31% rated their ability as medium, while 12% rated their ability as low or very low. Men were more likely to rate their abilities as high (49%), compared to women (32%).
Three in 10 (29%) educators rated their ability to explain different STEM careers as high or very high. A higher proportion of men (47%) compared to women (12%) rated their ability high or very high. Teachers with STEM qualifications (51%) were also more likely to report they are able to explain STEM careers than those without (18%). These results may also reflect the higher proportion of STEM teachers and teachers with STEM qualifications who are men.
One in 5 (21%) teachers felt very confident connecting STEM content with real-world applications. Teachers with STEM qualifications were nearly 4 times as likely to feel very confident compared to those who do not have STEM qualifications (39%, compared to 11%). A higher proportion of men felt confident (83%) to connect STEM content with relevant, real-world applications and career examples compared to women (70%). A similar pattern can be observed among primary and secondary school teachers. A higher proportion of secondary teachers (78%) felt confident with making STEM connections compared to primary teachers (65%).
Gender perceptions about STEM subjects and careers
Compare gender perceptions among educators across demographic groups. Explore their views on how engaged girls and boys are in STEM subjects, and how suited they are to STEM careers.
STEM gender perceptions by subject
The survey asked questions on whether girls or boys are more confident in a range of subjects, including STEM.
The majority of educators believe boys and girls are equally confident in mathematics, science and technology. However, across all STEM subjects, where educators perceived a gendered difference in confidence this was heavily skewed towards boys. This skew is most prominent with engineering with almost two thirds of educators (61%) believing boys are more confident than girls.
Educators reported boys to be more confident than girls in:
- engineering – 61% believed boys are more confident, 2% believed girls are more confident
- sport – 53% believed boys are more confident, 1% believed girls are more confident
- technology – 40% believed boys are more confident, 3% believed girls are more confident
- mathematics – 33% believed boys are more confident, 7% believed girls are more confident
- science – 29% believed boys are more confident, 5% believed girls are more confident
Conversely, educators reported girls to be more confident in:
- social science – 39% believed girls are more confident, 4% believed boys are more confident
- arts – 58% believed girls are more confident, 1% believed boys are more confident
- English - 61% believed girls are more confident, 1% believed boys are more confident
STEM gender perceptions by career
Engineering was the STEM career educators most recommended for both boys and girls. However, educators were significantly more likely to recommend engineering (70% for boys, 50% for girls) and trade careers (18% for boys, 2% for girls) to boys compared to girls. Science (27% for girls, 18% for boys) and health careers (33% for girls, 19% for boys) were more likely to be recommended to girls, compared to boys.
When asked if jobs were more for girls or boys, educators showed a strong gender association with different jobs:
- The top 3 jobs most skewed towards women were nurse, office support and teacher.
- Labourer, machinery operator and farmer were most skewed towards men.
- Pharmacist, lawyer and accountant were the professions with the least gender skew.
The data showed a correlation between educators’ perceptions of gender association of different jobs, and the perceived importance of STEM skills to those jobs:
- Computing or information technology jobs were better suited to men, and were the jobs where STEM skills were the most essential.
- Pharmacy and teaching were the only jobs better suited to women, and where STEM skills were essential.
- Nursing was markedly associated with women, with STEM skills moderately essential.
These results were consistent with the STEM Influencers - Parents survey.
Teachers with STEM qualifications were also more likely to see STEM-skills as necessary for teaching, than teachers without STEM qualifications. Both these cohorts perceived teaching as a women‑oriented occupation.
About the data
The 2020-21 STEM Influencer - Teacher and Career Advisers survey was a survey of almost 800 educators. The survey asked questions to help understand how educators contribute to young people’s perceptions and attitudes to STEM. Respondents came from all states and territories across Australia.
To ensure survey results represented the population, weighting corrected for under or over representation of sub-groups, by socioeconomic deciles of the school/institution the respondent works at, school jurisdiction (government, Catholic and independent schools) and geographic representation that aligns to the population of each state/territory in Australia.
Our department commissioned YouthInsight to carry out this survey to expand on their 2019–20 Youth in STEM survey. In 2020-21, they also surveyed parents to complement the educator survey.
Read about our methodology