Factors influencing STEM positioning

2021/06/18 STEAM-Hezkuntza (Elhuyar Zientzia)

It is expected that in the short term there will not be enough professionals to cover the jobs that will be created around STEM. To address this problem it is essential to overcome the gap between STEM and young people (especially girls), for which it is necessary to work from small STEM positioning.

Ed. Related information

But what is STEM positioning? Well, how and what a person thinks, feels, speaks and acts about STEM, which is built through STEM experiences in each person's day-to-day life and in formal and informal education. Various personal factors influence the STEM positioning of youth:

  • Capacity and self-efficacy: STEM is the ability to use STEM knowledge in a powerful way to participate in the scientific-technological debates that arise. Self-efficacy is the difference between students' actual ability in STEM and expectations about their own capabilities. Thus, those with greater self-efficacy in the field of STEM will feel a greater interest in STEM. However, the perception of self-efficacy may differ from actual capacity. For example, girls get better grades in general, even in STEM subjects. However, they evaluate their achievements in a modest way. Boys, however, get worse notes but are not as demanding on themselves.
  • Identity: STEM identity is related to the set of perceptions, attitudes, feelings and behaviors associated with people in the STEM area and develops by comparing the image they have around these people with their own image. The stereotype of professional STEM is that of an intelligent white man, with great success and strong adherence to STEM. This stereotype alienates many young people from the STEM realm, as they do not identify with that image. For example, many girls believe that the professional STEM image is incompatible with femininity. It is also considered that STEM subjects are very difficult, which delays less academically preceded students, who generally despise their abilities.
  • Intentions: STEM intentions are related to the selection of future studies of young people. Many young people who opt for STEM studies have family members working in the STEM field, so in addition to knowing what professional STEM is, they believe it is important for their family. According to a study on student intentions, despite the interest of students and families in STEM disciplines, intentions with STEM are minimal, decreasing with age. In the choice of studies, differences between boys and girls are also very notable, with a lower propensity to choose STEM studies.
  • Interests: Interest is related to intrinsic motivation and, therefore, to the personal feeling that everyone participates in STEM activities. Children up to 10 years of age, in general, have a greater interest in STEM, but from that age, the interest of young people decreases, a trend especially marked among girls. Girls are usually more interested in the usefulness of STEM practice, in the relationship or impact of STEM with society and, above all, in improving people's living conditions. Boys, however, show greater interest in STEM processes and products in general, regardless of whether they are useful or not.

On the basis of these five factors, Digna Couso Lagarón and Carme Grimalt Álvaro, from CRECM, have developed a radio scheme taking into account aspects of three decisive areas for young people: Society, family and school.

The aspirations of a young man do not focus solely on learning and the professional future, but on other desires such as social success, family perspective, etc.

Society must offer jobs to meet the goals of life. That is, work, in addition to being worthy, must leave free time for life and for friends, also in the STEM. In the construction of STEM identity, society has a great weight, so it is very important to make visible STEM professionals that can be positive referents for young people and especially for girls. It is necessary to highlight the contributions of referents (women, other ethnic groups, of different socioeconomic levels…) that are outside the stereotype of professional STEM, not only cases of social success but also of life success.

For young people it is very important to protect the family and the environment and has a great influence on the positioning of the STEM of young people. Studies show that the closeness and attitude towards family STEM, the Scientific Capital of the family, is closely related to the aspirations of young people in the field of STEM. Younger families with STEM capital opt for STEM studies, so pursuing STEM becomes a “hereditary” issue. A strategy to improve the STEM positioning of young people can be to promote the stem capital of families.

The third leg of STEM positioning is school. The school must propose STEAM education, aligned with the interests of young people; in addition to building STEM knowledge and developing STEM skills, it must help students build a realistic, humane and inclusive vision of how all knowledge is built within the framework of STEM. Teachers and educators must help young people develop their effectiveness, overcome the effects of the environment and, without impositions or knowledge, choose future studies.

STEM positioning of our young people

According to the results of the regional study that Elhuyar is carrying out among the youth of Euskal Herria, the STEM positioning of our young people is very aligned with other similar research at the state and international level, highlighting the need to reverse the pessimistic trend of STEM positioning.

More information about these studies: Diagnosis of Bilbao, Diagnosis of Tolosaldea and Diagnosis of Low Deba.

The Department of Education of the Basque Government launched in 2018 the STEAM Euskadi strategy to transform the entire educational system based on renewed criteria of STEAM education, which includes the need for a transversal participation of the entire supra-school community.

5 aspects to improve STEM positioning

  • Early participation: Promote good STE(A)M education from the earliest ages and act continuously from a gender and discipline perspective.
  • Promoting STEM identity: Promote the positive image of STEM professionals and visualize the contributions of people who move away from stereotypes to STEM.
  • Foster STEM practices in the family setting: to enable young people to show their abilities or successes in STEM practice so that parents and/or guardians can value and value.
  • Improving STEM self-efficacy: Promote successful experiences in the practice of STEM, incorporating and using personal skills and particular interests in the classroom.
  • Reporting on the value and diversity of STEM: Report on the added value and diversity of professional STEM profiles (more than laboratory scientists and business engineers). Define the contributions of STEM to improving the quality of life of people.



Archer, L., Osborne, J., DeWitt, J., Dillon, J., Wong, B., & Willis, B. (2013). ASPIRES. Young people’s science and career aspirations, age 10–14. London.

Couso Lagarón, D., & Grimalt-Álvaro, C. (2019). Raising self-eficacy in STEM education to provided opportunities for all. In D. Couso Lagarón & Grimalt-Álvaro (Eds. ), STEM is for you. Experiencias in raising self-eficacy from the STEAM 4U project (p. 103). Barcelona: Servei de Publicacions. Autonomous University of Barcelona.

STEM professionals to inspire young people. Elhuyar (2019). https://zientzia.eus/media/pdf_alea/stem_professionalak.pdf

Tena Gallego, Èlia & Couso, Digna (2019). • https://dd.uab.cat/record/210969