A comparison of Swedish and Irish secondary students' conceptions of engineers and engineering using the draw-an-engineer test
Gumaelius, Lena B.
Pears, Arnold Neville
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Women are significantly underrepresented in engineering and engineering related disciplines. One area where this is clearly illustrated is in the percentage of females enrolled in higher education engineering courses. The 2016 data on enrolment by field from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that the maximum percentage of female enrolment in “engineering and engineering trades” education at Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral level in OECD countries is 28.33% in Sweden. As this form of education is likely to lead to a career in an engineering related field, there is a clear need to understand the factors which influence female students’ decisions to enroll in higher education engineering courses. There are many influences on students’ choices to pursue specific career paths. For example, how students conceive a particular discipline or career will influence this decision, as what they believe it to involve will likely affect their interest in engaging with it. In engineering, students often have misconceptions regarding what it means to be an engineer and the Draw-an-Engineer Test (DAET) has frequently been used to investigate these misconceptions. Studies using DAET have found that young students typically conceive engineers to be male, with the majority of male students typically representing engineers as male, but, with female students drawing more frequent but still relatively small proportions of female engineers. However, at least with the original “Draw a” instrument, the Draw-a-Scientist Test (DAST), children’s drawings of scientists have been found to be becoming more gender diverse over time. In this study, the DAET is used in a comparative study between Sweden and Ireland. These countries were selected as according to the 2016 OECD data on higher education enrolment, Sweden has the highest representation of female engagement with engineering in higher level education (28.33%), while Ireland has one of the lowest (14.13%). The study cohort (ntotal = 513; nIreland = 302; nSweden = 211) in the context of both countries includes students who are approximately 15 years old. This age is of cultural significance in both countries as students are at a juncture in second level education where they must make a choice on what they will study at upper secondary level, which will consequently have an impact on their decision on what to study should they choose to progress to higher level education. Results are presented in relation to participants engineering stereotypes in terms of gender and the nature of engineering activities, and also in terms of their level of interest in engineering. Importantly, the results indicate that in order to understanding engineering stereotypes and young people’s interest in becoming an engineer, the complex relationship between a student’s gender, cultural context, and conception of engineering must be considered.
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